Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

In the Eyes of the Dead (A Maquisard's Song, Book One)

It's been a while, I know. Apart from a recent post on someone else's series, the last time I posted about anything I've been working on was July. It's November now. So I'm sorry about that – it's been a testing few months. However, I have not been idle. I've been working on a great deal. Firstly, I have been going over the final edits on a Beyond the Wall novella, Atonement, which is currently with David Gatewood for editing. It will have its first outing in Crime and Punishment, an anthology I am editing and curating with Alex Roddie, due to be released at the end of November. It will be released as a standalone shortly afterwards.

Additionally, of course, I am working on the fourth and final book in the Beyond the Wall series, Into A Silent Darkness. Release date to be determined, but I would think early next year. There are a couple of other projects too, but I won't talk about them here. I'll scribble another post for you soon about those.

A Maquisard's Song

The main reason I'm posting is to keep you updated on A Maquisard's Song, the new series I am working on at the moment. This is by far my most ambitious series to date. The opening book will be called In the Eyes of the Dead and, unlike The Heretic, will be a full-length, epic novel to open an epic series. At the moment, the first draft manuscript is 56,000 words (with a likely final word count of around 135,000).

If you thought the Beyond the Wall setting was detailed, the landscape for Maquisard is lavish, even sumptuous, by comparison. The dramatis personae are among the most exciting, compelling, and surprising I have ever created and I am really enjoying working with them. So much work has gone into this series over the last six months, picking apart every detail of the worlds I am creating – socio-economic structures and race, religious and spiritual issues, ecology, technology at various stages of a civilisation's advancement; as well as the themes to be explored: occupation and annexation of other species, collaboration in a time of war, genocide, the role of artificial and super intelligence, as well as genetic and nano-modification in our society and others. Dozens of documents, post-it notes, folders tabbed and highlighted, to draw together a setting that will do justice to the story I am creating. The way in which Empires are born, rule, then fall, and the effect on individuals within those vast, sprawling nightmares. The worst of what people will do to each other when faced with a threat to their existence – the meaning of loyalty and honour in an interstellar setting.

There are questions I want to ask (not all of them here, but this gives you an idea): 

When does fighting for freedom become terrorism? Is it the cause that drives it, or the manner of the conduct of a guerrilla war? Does it matter who you are fighting for?

Who becomes a freedom fighter? What damage does it cause to the psyche of those who engage in it? Does the freedom fighter fall in love with the lifestyle – become addicted to the power, control and violence? Can they extract themselves into a normal life again?

What rights to soldiers have in war? The tragedy of their use as pawns in a much larger game. This is especially true of what are essentially slaves – those created for that single purpose, but who are still sapient with beliefs and a destiny. The choices they are forced to make, who to fight for, loyalty vs morality. Loyalty is tested when a civilisation descends into civil war. The functional belief of some in the Empire and what it stands for, as well as the inviolate nature of the chain of command.

How should we treat collaborators? When does the military justification for killing a collaborator weaken so it becomes murder? Is murder ever justified? Do we need to understand the collaborator’s position – one of fear, acquiescence and cowardice? Are they ever really combatants and, if so, don’t they deserve the type of protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions? What justice do they deserve – some form of due process? Does war change the concept of justice?

The whole of that first book is outlined and the next book has its own structure in place too. The overarching story is complete and now I am writing the whole thing as fast as I can. In the Eyes of the Dead is proving to be the most complex, emotive, and dramatic work I have ever done. Kameron Hurley said of The Mirror Empire, "Just because you think up a dark kernel of a swell idea doesn’t mean you have the technical skill to pull it off, and this book required a very long apprenticeship and a great deal of editing and feedback from a variety of folks to make it work." The writing and storytelling to be found within In the Eyes of the Dead really demonstrates how far I have come since I published The Heretic in June 2014.

What's also special about this one is that I intend to write two, separate and standalone series in the same setting. They will cross-over in places, but neither will require the other to exist. In the Eyes of the Dead will be the first book in what I will call an epic, darker space opera drawing in espionage thriller elements as well as classic, epic science fiction. That series will be at least three books.

The Dark Descent

The second series in the same setting, working title The Dark Descent, will be a first person, present tense military science fiction story with an emphasis on fast-paced and thrilling drama. Of course, the same thematic undertones will be present, as with all my fiction, but this will be action-packed, heat-pumping and powerful. My short from No Way Home, entitled To Sing of Chaos and Eternal Night will form the basis of the first novel in that series. That's the style I'll be writing in – far more immediate and personal.

 

So there you have it, what I've been doing and what is to come. I hope you're as excited as I am. 2016 promises to be my best year by far.

Studying a Setting: The Orbit Series, by J. S. Collyer

When J. S. Collyer released the classic-styled space opera, Zero, last year, it received considerable acclaim. The second book in the series, Haven, has just been released. Setting has always been critical to storytelling, not just as a backdrop to the story, but also as a character or plotline of its own. Iain M. Banks relied more on setting than story or character to convey his message in the Culture novels and, in some ways, something similar could be said of Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha series. In short, setting in science fiction and fantasy is critical. So, I asked J. S. Collyer to tell me a little about the series, and more importantly, how she went about creating the setting for it.

 

The Orbit Series is your debut work. Zero, Book One, has received glowing reviews and done really well. Haven, Book Two, has just been released. Introduce us to the series.

The Orbit Series follows the story of Kaleb Hugo, a high-ranking, well-connected soldier in the military establishment called the Service that rules over Earth and its orbiting colonies in the not-to-near future. Book 1, Zero, begins when Hugo makes a controversial decision and loses his position in the establishment that has been his whole life but is re-assigned to a special ops vessel the ‘Zero’. The Zero is crewed by a rag-tag group of orphans and misfits  who look to their wry, wrong-side-of-the-tracks commander Ezekiel Webb for leadership whilst executing undercover work for the Service. This shift in positions and perspective, both in Zero and again in Haven, leads Hugo to re-examine the way the world works and his own position in it whilst trying to fight for what he believes is right. His perception of risk and relationships shift hugely as he discovers more and more about himself  and those around him during the course of his missions.

 

What feel are you going for with the Orbit series? Is it a classic space opera, high melodramatic adventure, or does it have more in common with hard science fiction or military science fiction?

 I would say it has more in common with TV shows like Firefly and Farscape than any hard-hitting or universe-spanning book series. I try to keep it light-hearted in that the narrative is fun and relatable, the characters grounded and realistic and the settings easily visualised. I like a really immersive experience from my fiction which comes from relating to the characters and experiencing their story along with them. My themes revolve heavily around the characters and their relationships and experiences. For me, the setting full of lasers, space stations and star ships are an added bonus that provide a super-human backdrop to a very human story, so I’d say classic space-adventure with feels than anything else.

 

I want to talk about setting. First of all, walk us through the setting for both books.

The setting is the future of our own world but not so very many years away. Think hundreds rather than thousands. I envision an over-populated Earth with wide areas of uninhabitable areas that are the result of a Whole World War several generations ago. Humankind has expanded onto cities on the moon and into two ‘strips’ of orbiting space station colonies – the Lunar Strip consists of 5 space stations (Lunar 1 – 5) and the Sunside Strip has five more (Sunside 1 -5). 

The Lunar strip is older, more ramshackle, and populated by descendants of Old America and Europe, the first groups of people to flee Earth. The Sunside colonies are newer, better equipped, richer and with stronger ties to the Service, the first military establishment that was strong enough to unite more of the ‘Orbit’ (Earth and its colonies) than any other force in history. Despite the strength and hold of the Service, humanity is still a sprawling, fractured species, desperate for space to live and resources to live off. They mine asteroids harvested from the asteroid belt for minerals and parts of the Orbit use dangerously flammable fuel to run their machines as they have no other options. Crime and conspiracy and power struggles are rife, though the Service tries its best to keep things under control, for better or worse.

By the second book, humanity is starting construction of a new colony on Mars which promises to be the new start everyone is hoping for, but in reality sparks a whole new mess of revolution and unrest.

 

How do you go about designing the setting, and how much of it developed as you wrote Zero? Did you develop it even more in your own mind as you were writing Haven?

The Orbit is developing all the time. The more my characters travel through and explore it, the more I learn about it myself. The premise of Earth and space station colonies was all I started out with and has been done before. The individual idiosyncrasies of the colonies, populations and levels of society all came together as I wrote, gaining (I hope original) colour and texture with each book.

 

 

 

Where did your inspiration come from for the setting? What research did you do to build its realism?

My inspiration came from some of the Japanese anime I used to watch in the 90s. They seem to have a grungy, post-apocalyptic style all of their own which is gritty, over-the-top outlandish and yet grounded and dirty and real. In terms of research, I read up on our own solar system, the basic properties of the moon, other planets, asteroids to get an idea of the logistics of living and working in such environments and I also did some basic research on military ranking systems as well as guns, bombs and other weaponry. However, the main focus of these books will always be the characters and their emotional journey so, though I did read up on things to keep the realism in check, don’t expect paragraphs of technical knowledge or explanation on any of their gadgetry, computer systems or ship workings.

 

How important is realism to you? How hard do you want the science fiction in the series to be?

I find realism extremely important, and that’s emotional and character realism as well as that relating to the setting or objects, because no matter how far-fetched the setting or premise, I can get on board and with almost anything if it reads realistically. Anything that smacks as unbelievable catapults me right out of a story and I struggle to commit to the narrative once I feel like it could never actually happen, or at least not happen in the way the author has articulated. 

I also like realism delivered through seamless background details, character reactions, actions and motivations. I don’t like paragraphs of explanation or descriptions of spaceships, societal systems or other-worldly transportation methods. Lots of people really like detail and I appreciate that. Many scifi and fantasy fans love like knowing all the ins and outs and imagining every detail of the fictional world. But for me, as I’ve said, it’s the characters and their journeys that’s the draw of a story, not how technically accurate their communication technology is. So as much as I like believable and technically accurate details where they matter, the Orbit series is not what would be classed by many as ‘hard’ science fiction because of the focus on the humanity rather than the technology.

 

 

Kaleb Hugo and Ezekiel Webb are your lead protagonists. If the Orbit series were picked up Bad Robot or SyFy, who would you love to see cast in the roles?

I’ve daydreamed about this so many times! I’m a very visual story teller so to me they do feel almost more like films than books. I ‘see’ everything happen clearly when I write so things like mentally designing sets, scouting locations and casting actors is a very satisfying indulgence I allow myself once in a while. 

Casting my protagonists is fun but tricky. Trying to narrow down so many wonderful actors  who I think could lend themselves to Hugo’s hard-nosed but good-hearted integrity and Webb’s snide and cynical but open honesty is quite difficult. I also have a very clear physical depiction of both these characters in my heads but like to leave that open to interpretation as I think their physical appearance is up for debate, but their characteristics are not.

For Hugo I would love to see the likes of Idris Elba or Daniel Craig in the role, someone who can pull off gravitas but the capacity for a hot temper and strong emotion.  As for the slightly younger, cheekier and yet dry and cynical Webb, it would have to be someone like Jay Baruchel or Cylian Murphy.

 

Book 1 in the Orbit Series is called Zero and has been described as ‘James Bond meets Firefly’. It is out now on Amazon: http://a-fwd.com/asin=B00MRACF86

Haven, book 2 in the series, which has been described as ‘cinematic, full of breathtaking moments’ and is out now for Kindle and as Paperback: http://myBook.to/havenjscollyer

Details of all publication and more thoughts on writing, publishing and promoting SciFi on J S Collyer’s WordPress: http://jcollyer.wordpress.com

Collected Artwork, Video and Images from Ridley Scott's The Martian

It's a poorly kept secret that I loved Andy Weir's breakout novel, The Martian. If you haven't yet read it, you really should. I suspect you'll love it as much as I did. I'm thrilled by the upcoming film, directed by one of my favourite directors, Ridley Scott. Initially, I was uncertain of Matt Damon cast in the role of Mark Watney, but two trailers I've now seen dispel those doubts utterly. I have no doubt it will be one of the blockbuster events of the year when it is released. Haven't seen the trailer yet? Here it is.

The hype is growing, the media circus gathering pace. So I thought I'd share some of my favourite  artwork and on-set images.

The reality of the task facing Weir was stark. He had to have Watney right there, but also the desperate efforts to save him going on in parallel. He solved the problem of creating his narrative voice through a device which is not particularly inspired – a ship’s log – but is nevertheless clever for two reasons. Firstly, it allows Weir a simple narrative voice, that of his protagonist, and the ability to see into his mind clearly. We identify with him completely and quickly. We are with him. We want him to survive. We are him. Secondly, we don’t know, from the outset, if he survives. The log is a permanent record and remains whether he survives or not. So, uninspired? Or simply taking advantage of the most effective way to tell his story? Does it matter – Weir uses a device which works.

And he uses it to great effect.

Initially, the POV shift to third person NASA took the story in a direction I was unhappy about – the strength of this book was Watley's narration and our insight into his character through his thought processes. His humour came through, his unwillingness to give in. Segueing to the third person from the first person is a technique I find contrived and disconcerting – if I am viewing events through the eyes of a (first person) non-omniscient narrator, to then see them through the eyes of an omniscient narrator in the third person simply does not work. Additionally, I was not convinced the story needed it, but the reality is it does build tension and it gives us a much-needed break from the sometimes too technical "this-is-what-I-did-next" Watney (nice as he is). So, I am willing to forgive the first-person/third-person contrivance because it drives the story nicely and I genuinely don't think Weir could have achieved what he did achieve – narrative flow and strong tension – any other way in the context of the story he was telling and the way he was telling it.

That’s the big challenge. It has all the bells and whistles of NASA and the b-side of the story, the rest of the world trying to get this guy back. But the other half of the movie is me and Ridley on Mars, so that part’s different. You start there, there’s that mystery – what happened, how did he get left there? The mission part is the b-side, trying to figure out how to get back. So, structurally it’s different to anyone that’s ever been done.
— Matt Damon on portraying Watney's struggle to survive

One of the things I love about the build-up to the film is the docu-style trailers – taking the gritty, utterly realistic feel the book had and translating it to the film's underlying themes and milieu. Almost making the film feel, as the book did, like non-fiction.

The technical aspects of the story are integral to suspension of disbelief. Watney (and so Weir) has to explain it to us because this is a story about fumbling for the final threads on frayed fabric, and somehow painstakingly sewing them into an escape plan. Every single thing Watney does needs scientific explanation otherwise the drama of his escape evaporates. Yet Weir manages to convey this in Watney's engaging, conversational tone so we don't despair at the detail. We love it. The quote I began this review with is the most telling example of the entire book: "Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped." So simple, so obvious, so much said in the sort of tone which implies 'What, you didn't know that?'

The book is great, it created an amazing character who’s such a problem solver. He has such a great sense of humour that you root for him. It has a similar character to other films we’ve loved, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. It’s a character that’s lost at sea somewhere and is trying to find their way back home. I think we can all imagine being lost somewhere and trying to get back, we can all relate to that.
— Jessica Chastain

Chastain is right. Characterisation of Watney in the book is excellent – we believe him from the very first words. "I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion." In those eight words, we are told everything we need to know about Watney's personality. The subtle dig within the words "considered opinion" suggested his expertise and what he now thinks of it. We immediately know he's in trouble. We are compelled to read on, we simply cannot but read on. "I don't even know who'll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now." First person convention blown – we don't know if he's getting out of this. We see this log, and his scattered, dried bones beside them, being handled by astronauts years, even decades from now. All bets are off. This is serious. This is Into the Wild.

I think it will be great.

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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015