My co-writer, Ian Whates, is going to be vital to the conclusion of the Human Legion series. I’m sure fans will be curious to learn more about him, so I’ve interviewed him to reveal his darkest secrets. At the bottom are some links to his most recent novel which is Deal of the Day on Amazon.
Now read on…
TIM: So, Ian, I’m trying to think how long we’ve known each other. About 2008, I think. Even before we’d met in the flesh, we’d unknowingly encountered each other as aspiring SF writers because we were both getting published in the same SF magazines. In fact, it was a magazine that brought us together. I used to subscribe to Interzone, which is the premier British magazine for short SF fiction. Within Interzone’s pages I enjoyed the stories of an author called Ian Watson. In his tagline he said he was chair of the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group. Seeing as Northampton is the next big town north of my village, I thought it was best to drop in and see what this group was about. In fact, Ian Watson keeps appearing in our story. I gather he took you under his wing and showed you the wonders of SF fandom. How did that come about?
IAN: Yes, that’s very true. ‘Little’ Ian has a lot to answer for… I joined the Northampton SF Writers Group in 2004. That year, Ian was Guest of Honour at a convention in Walsall: Novacon. He urged me to attend, saying I’d love it, but conventions had never really appealed to me, so I resisted. Ian continued to work on me and eventually I capitulated, agreeing to go… Only to discover that I loved it! Two and a bit days ensconced in a hotel, meeting authors and drinking beer with people who were as passionate about science fiction as I was, and not a hint of anyone dressed as a Wookie in sight. I was hooked, and have been attending conventions ever since.
TIM: Ian Watson, for those who don’t know him, is a brilliantly inventive writer. Amongst his credits are the screen story for AI the movie, and the very first Warhammer 40K tie-in novels, notably the seminal work, Space Marine. When I was watching the Amazon charts early in the year, when Marine Cadet and Indigo Squad were squatting for weeks at #1 and #2 in the Space Marine charts, I often wondered whether that distinctive sub-genre would exist on Amazon if not for Ian Watson taking the standard SF clichés of the original Warhammer 40K game and breathing vitality into them. The gaming world, such as the Halo series, often channels Ian Watson without even realising. The man’s a genius. Anyway, fans might have noticed that Ian Watson gets a thank you at the front of the Human Legion books. I’m going to take a moment to explain why. Short stories set in the universe of the Human Legion started getting published as far back as 2002, and the novel that became Marine Cadet had accumulated notes and sketched scenes for several years before it was finally published. Ian, do you remember when our writing group workshopped what became the opening scenes of Marine Cadet in Ian Watson’s kitchen back in early 2012? Originally, the book was titled ‘Soldier Slaves of the White Knights’. You weren’t fond of the title were you? I recall you saying it was too 70s and sounded like a parody. Or maybe a children’s book.
IAN: No, I wasn’t, for the reasons you suggest. The title struck me as clunky and not the sort likely to appeal to readers.
TIM: My story was generally favourably received. Ian Watson was the most enthusiastic of all, saying it had great commercial potential and I should press ahead. Well, I didn’t for a couple of years because I was concentrating on publishing other authors through Greyhart Press. But when I concentrated on writing back in early 2014, I very nearly worked on developing another series of novels called ‘Stain Blossoms’. I already had drafts of the first two Stain Blossoms books, and to be honest, that was the series I wanted to release next. It was Ian Watson’s enthusiasm for the prototype Marine Cadet that changed my mind. Have you ever faced a fork in the path of your writing and publishing career? Any regrets on the direction you chose?
IAN: No, none at all. I’ve always written precisely what I want to write and, with NewCon Press, published what I want to publish. The one instance where any ‘guidance’ has cropped up was when I was working on my first novel, City of Dreams and Nightmare. I showed the first six chapters to editors at Solaris (then part of Games Workshop) at their request. They came back to me after several months saying that they really liked the style but didn’t have room in their list for this sort of a novel (the City of 100 Rows series is a strange melange of genres, featuring renegade bio engineers, religious mysticism, a multi-tiered city where class distinctions are prevalent, aliens, flying policemen, steampunk elements, and a boy who witnesses a murder…). They therefore asked me to pitch them “a space opera novel like Alastair Reynolds”. I viewed the request with horror, pointing out that I couldn’t do that because I don’t have Al’s science (he worked for the European space agency at the time). I did, however, have a vague idea for an interstellar human vs human war, and indeed had seen three short stories relating to this published in various venues at that point. They weren’t, however, interested in a war in space novel, pointing out that in Warhammer 40K they pretty much had that covered; so I pitched the idea of a story that unfolds a century after the war, involving AI spaceships, transhumans, and first contact. From that pitch came the two book Noise series.
TIM: So we met partly because of our geographical proximity, and to me that’s essential to working together. Our communication is mostly transmitted in ones and zeroes, but when we’re bouncing raw imagination around the room, I want to be in the same physical location. Being forty minutes’ drive away was one of the main reasons I asked you to try co-authoring with me, and the pub in your village that serves decent real ale and food had absolutely nothing to do with it. Can you remind me of the name of that pub we never go to?
IAN: Yes, that’s the White Hart… Not that I’ve ever been in there, of course.
TIM: I thought it important to clear that up, in case my family are reading this and think I’m not treating my job seriously enough. Okay, I’ve warmed you up gently, like a pro interviewer. Hopefully. Now it’s time for the jugular. I’ve seen authors pour scorn on military SF and space opera as lowbrow genres suited only for morons and white, male supremacists … and then write bad space opera themselves because they think it’s a sure-fire route to earn a quick buck. I accuse you, sir, of a deceitful conversion to the cause of space opera. Defend yourself, if you can, with evidence of your love of this genre.
IAN: Not at all. I’ve always been a fan of space opera, right back from the earliest days of my reading. Poul Anderson in particular was someone whose books I devoured as a young teen, and Asimov’s Foundation series, Gordon R Dickson’s Dorsai! books and many others… And, as mentioned, I’ve already written novels in the field: the two Noise books for Solaris and my latest book Pelquin’s Comet, first of the Dark Angel series, which takes the trope of humanity bootstrapping themselves to the stars using alien tech and turns that on its head. The book features the crew of a small trading ship seeking to get rich via a previously undiscovered alien cache who are saddles with an agent of the bank funding their expedition… But he is far more than he seems, and things start to get out of control pretty quickly.
TIM: The Human Legion books managed 50,000 sales in the first six months, which isn’t a bad start. Although I think the first book, Marine Cadet, had the right cover and title to attract interest, my only explanation for how it shot up to #1 in the Amazon charts so quickly is because when I rolled the ‘release results’ dice, they all came up sixes. But that doesn’t explain why all three books have been bestsellers and keep on selling. They must be doing something right. How do you explain the appeal of the books?
IAN: They’re exciting military SF with a highly original premise, a well-realised setting, rounded characters, and good plot development… What’s not to like?
TIM: The main Human Legion series will be six books, which means you joined at the halfway point while the readers are breaking for hotdogs, nachos and beer. What do you think you personally can bring to the second half, and what developments would you like to see?
IAN: I’m coming into the series at an interesting time, as the nascent legion breaks away from the single world we’ve seen so far and becomes involved in the macro situation of the White Knight civil war, allowing the scope of the narrative to expand dramatically. I’m looking forward to helping reveal this larger picture and also to facilitating the further development of the various characters you’ve introduced as they forge a new place for humanity in the grand scheme of things.
TIM: A little more about yourself. I want snap answers and no conferring. Give me your favourite three SF books or book series (that neither of us have worked on). Go!
IAN: Seriously… Just three? I wouldn’t know where to start. Ask me for thirty and I’d stand a chance… Iain Banks, Roger Zelazny, Alastair Reynolds, Frank Herbert, Lois McMaster Bujold, Poul Anderson, Gwyneth Jones, David Weber, CJ Cherryh, Isaac Asimov, Peter F Hamilton… They’ve all produced series I’ve loved, and I know that as soon as this interview appears I’ll be kicking myself for not mentioning a dozen more. No, I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to three.
TIM: All right, I’ll try again. Your three favourite SF TV series or movies.
IAN: Again, just three…? Okay, this isn’t as tough as the books, so I’ll give it a go seeing as I side-stepped the books, but I know I’ll be missing out loads of things I love…
TIM: I happen to know that you have enslaved a team of evil scientists and force them to work in your hidden, underground lab until they discover the secrets of the perfect SF book, guarded all the while by your hound of hell with the demonic name of Honey (she’s lovely really). What do you think their findings will be? What makes the perfect SF book?
IAN: Absolutely no idea… If I did, I would have written it by now. I’m pretty sure that the perfect book, should it ever arise, will include great characters that the reader can relate to, peril that the characters have to overcome, surprising twists, innovative plotting, great dialogue, thrills, spills, action, pace, and a satisfying conclusion.
TIM: I want this interview to concentrate on your writing, because I expect that’s the role in which Human Legion fans will be mostly be interested in you, but I’ve heard of a publisher called NewCon Press. Who the frakk are they?
IAN: Oh them… Yes, NewCon is a publishing imprint that I never meant to establish. The idea was to publish just one book to fulfil a specific purpose and then disappear, but here we are nine years and more than fifty titles later and Newcon has grown to become a big part of my life. I’m fortunate enough to have published big name authors such as Neil Gaiman, Brian Aldiss, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher, Tanith Lee, Dan Abnett, Stephen Baxter, Kelley Armstrong, Mike Resnick, Gwyneth Jones, Ian Watson, Joe Abercrombie, etc, as well as new and emerging writers, to have been shortlisted for many awards and won quite a few, and to publish books I’m extremely proud of. I always use one guiding criterion when considering things for publication: would I be happy to shell out my own hard-earned dosh to read this?
TIM: Final question. One of the consistent bits of positive feedback I’ve gotten about the Human Legion books is that there’s a rich cast of characters. Who is your favourite character and why? And while we’re on them, how would you like them to develop in the second half?
IAN: That’s a tricky one; you’ve established several noteworthy characters in the series. I suppose if I had to pick one it would be Springer. She’s strong enough that Arun relies on her heavily in the early books but is essentially flawed, and is conscious of those flaws. As to how I’d like to see her develop… The readers will have to wait and see.
TIM: You know, as I’ve been conducting this interview, I’m thinking it’s a great way for readers who are interested in such things to get into the heads of the writers. I know that when I start following an author’s work, I like to discover a little of the person behind the name. So I’m thinking maybe you should turn the tables and interview me. Perhaps you’ll uncover the true reason why I recruited you into my evil masterplan. Brouhawaw! What do you reckon?
IAN: Hey, what was that about the ‘favourite character’ question being the last one…? Yes, turning the tables might be an interesting exercise… We’ll have to wait and see.
TIM: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Ian. And thank you also, for joining me in this project. If anyone wants to ask either of us a question, the comments are open.
Here are some recent reviews of Ian’s most recent novel, Pelquin’s Comet, which is Amazon’s Deal of the Day (more on that in a moment…)
The Financial Times review of Pelquin’s Comet (which will probably ask you a question first if you aren’t an FT subscriber)
A review on SFCROWSNEST
The Guardian’s review as part of a roundup of recent releases/
The best way to figure out whether Ian is any good is not to listen to us blabber on, but read his fiction. By coincidence (honest) the Kindle edition of Pelquin’s Comet is an Amazon Deal of the Day. Amazon have never invited me to provide a Deal of the Day, so I don’t know the score other than the book is 99p/ 99c until Amazon decides it’s now Thursday. And if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read it for free anyway.
Here are the links:
Stay tuned for an announcement later tonight on how humanlegion.com readers can get a sneak peek of the first two sections of Human Empire, the fourth book in the Human Legion series that Ian and I are co-writing (and closing in on being able to say we have co-written).