Author interview with Steven L. Kent

Author interview with Steven L. Kent

Earlier this year I was introduced to The Clone Rebellion series of Steven L. Kent, starting with Rogue. I immediately hooked on the series, its deep space sci-fi with an emphasis on the military side. Besides this there is also a great focus on many other aspects like politics and a healty dash of humor thrown in the mix that produces and promises with each book to be an highly enjoyable action-packed, over to soon story. The series follows Wayson Harris, a Liberator class clone, who is good for one thing: fighting. But being thrown by his superiors in several "unmanageable" situations he is starting to form his own opinions... I am currently at book 5 which hallmarked an important turning point in the series, I am curious to see how the series will continue!

Author Bio:
Steven L. Kent is an American author, best known for the Clone series of military science fiction and his video game journalism. As a freelance journalist, he has written for the Seattle Times, Parade, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC, the Japan Times, and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He also wrote entries on video games for Encarta and the Encyclopedia Americana.


Hi Steven and welcome to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions.
BP: First off, could you give a short introduction about yourself, who is Steven and what do you like to do?
SK: Who am I? Well, I like telling people that I was the leading video game historian and a leading journalist in video games for fifteen years. I like talking about boxing and mentioning that I did it... though I tend to change the subject when people ask about my record or how many fights I had.

So, instead, I'll give you the bald and honest truth. I am the world's most boringest person. I worked my wife through school as a telemarketer. I go to church on Sundays and daydream about wars and ghosts and monsters the rest of the week.  

BP: How did you come on the idea to write The Clone Rebellion series? 
SK: Ah, that... Jasper, long before I started writing about video games, I wanted to be a novelist--though, I admit, I was more interested in horror than science fiction. In 1998, Robert Lock asked me to write the official strategy guide for Microsoft's Flight Simulator. I said, "No." He needed a real pilot for that. I knew just the man, too--Ben Chiu. Since Robert had a contract with Microsoft Press to do all their games under the Inside Moves label, he asked me if there were any games that did interest me. I said I would love to do a book on Age of Empires.

In 2001, LucasArts asked me if I wanted to write a strategy guide for Star Wars Galactic Battlefields. That was a real-time strategy game that used an Age of Empires engine. Thinking a little ahead of myself, I said, "Sure, if I can write a short story to go with the book." They said yes, and we were off.

I wrote a story called Pax Empierica about the conquest of the Wookie homeworld. The story has developed a bit of a lasting mystique, something that the strategy guide never accomplished. Anyway, as I wrote it, I got a call from a woman LucasFilm asking if I was writing a Star Wars story. When I answered in the affirmative, she informed me that the story could not be published unless George Lucas read it and approved it. I sent her the story. GEORGE LUCAS ACTUALLY LOOKED AT IT!!!!!!!!! and she called back the next day to let me know that he said he liked it.

Well, if George Lucas liked my story, I thought, he'll adore the fully fleshed out novel. I started writing, and got a call from my friend at LucasFilm telling me to stop writing because Star Wars novels need to be approved by Lucas as well, and he doesn't read Star Wars novels that he hasn't greenlighted from the start. I took my story and stripped the blasters and light sabres and Jedis out. I replaced them with very dated-sounding real world men and equipment. I set the universe in our galaxy. Wayson Dour became Wayson Harris, and you know the rest.

BP: There are already 8 books out so far with the 9th to be published in October later this year. Has the series turned out the way you wanted it to be?
SK: Has it turned out to be what I wanted it to be? Well, I wanted it to be as big as Star Wars and Star Trek. That hasn't quite worked out. On the other hand, it's gone much longer than I envisioned. I imagined four books. Now I am up to nine, with a tenth and final book due next year. It's been a great ride for me, and I hope it has for my readers.

I was sincere when I said no aliens in the prologue of Book #1. That has changed. What hasn't changed is the character evolution that was always my goal. I wanted a narrator who would begin as a bit of a homicidal Boy Scout and become more and more jaded. I had many readers who became frustrated with Harris in books five and six because he let politicians bully him. I lost readers over that. They like Harris, the man of action who kills first and asks questions as an afterthought. The problem is that Harris always battled feelings of inferiority and subservience when it came to politicians, officers, and natural-borns. By book eight, his enemies had burned that out of him.

BP: In writing any of the book, what was for you the hardest or took the longest to write and why?
SK: If you read the author's note at the end of Elite, you will see that I thought the series was over. I was saying my "thank you"s and "good bye"s when my U.S. publisher called and asked me to write three more books. Having shut down the entire universe and moved on to other projects, I really had to scramble to write Book #5, Betrayal. At one point, I even called my agent up to say we needed to break contract. He listened sympathetically and suggested I grow up.

BP: Did you in writing any of the books encounter any difficulties?
SK: I wrote Republic as a hobby, something I did after hours. It was a labor of love. Rogue was pretty easy, too. When Ace Book bought the first one, they stipulated that they needed an outline for the second. No problem. The easiest book, though, was Book 3, Alliance. That one practically wrote itself. (It's also the one that my readers have liked the least.  Maybe it came too easily.)

I had, in my heart-of-hearts, walked away from the series and the books never came as easily again. I wrote Alliance in a couple of months. Beginning with Book 5, Betrayal, I have needed to ask for extensions on every single book. That doesn't mean the books haven't gotten better. I think the extra gestation period has benefited my readers, but it hasn't made life easy on me or my editors.

BP: In the series there is a lot of high tech gear and gadgets, did you do any specific research into these things?
 SK: The S-9 stealth pistols are based on real technology. Some of my information of space suits and combat armor has a toe-hold on reality. In truth, most of what appears in the Harris books is pretty silly stuff. I spent some time reading about a few subjects--Mars, tachyons, Borderline Personality Disorder, the relationship between DNA and chromosomes. On the most part, though, I confess that I am woefully uninformed. These novels have more to do with fun than education. Of course, John Ringo and Carl Sagan would undoubtedly say the same thing about their novels, and they are not uninformed.

The term "hard science fiction" refers to science-based science fiction. I don't know if the Harris stories qualify as soft science fiction. They probably have a little more to do with science and reality than most Star Wars movies and books. That said, most of my research is of the "Wikipedia" variety.

BP: In Republic you introduced the reader to Wayson Harris and the clone aspect of the book. Do you think that in the near future our world could be the same with the clones?
SK: I hope not. I hope we never open that door. With all of our prejudices and naivetes, we are nowhere near ready to peer into Pandora's box of life. 

BP: Ray Freeman the I-do-it-my-way-blow-stuff-up-and-I-won’t-hesitate-to-shoot-you-if-you-look-at-me-wrong kind of guy. He is quite an enigmatic character, where did you got the inspiration from to write his character?
SK: Freeman started of life as Boba Fett... particularly Boba Fett as he was portrayed in a particularly wonderful graphic novel titled "Enemy of the Empire." He changed considerably when I learned that I couldn't write a Star Wars novel.  He grew a full foot taller and stronger while remaining ruthless and brilliant. 

BP: I have only read the first four books so far, but the first three focused on the Mogat separatists uprising and the fourth really took of into a new direction. Why did you choose to plot the books out this way?
SK: I felt like the Mogats were a bit played out. I toyed with ideas like making them superhuman or having Harris join them as I wrote Book 3. Neither idea offered lasting value. I even considered making them vampires or demons, something that would have allowed me to add a little horror to the mix. In the end, though, I thought they had served their purpose.

BP: I really like the introduction of the aliens in Elite. They were a cool new direction to go into, but how did you come across portraying them in the manner that they were? Instead giving them more physical embodiment, to go with the tachyon particles and light?
SK: Ah... that. I had no idea what they would be when I wrote Alliance. I wanted a scary looking, mysterious alien as I finished Alliance. It didn't need to be explainable at that point because you only got a glimpse of it. Then, as I started Elite, I realized I had created something that would be very hard to explain. I went for long walks as I tried to flesh the floating chrome eyes introduced in Alliance into something solid and dangerous for Elite. I hope you liked the end product. Some people have complained that it was just another nondescript bug-eyed alien. I often drop my head and agree with criticisms of my books. This is one I do not accept. I think the Avatari are unique.

BP: If you would be given the chance to rewrite any part of the series, would you do it? If so why and which part?
SK: Oh. Interesting question. If I had the chance to rewrite, I would do many, many things differently, but I am not sure what they would be. I can't look at my books without wanting to tinker. Remember when I said that I always need extensions... that means I generally turn my books in one or two drafts too early.

Titan's reprints of my books have allowed me to change a few of the more glaring scientific errors. Yes, you scientifically literate readers, there were scientific inconsistencies even bigger than the ones you have already spotted. Also, Titan has allowed me to add short stories to the books. I've really enjoyed writing the short stories. I hope you have enjoyed reading them. They are NOT available in the United States.

They're meant to play the role of a small palette cleanser, like the after-dinner mint my father always buys after eating Chinese restaurants. Have you read any of those interviews or stories?

BP: The 9th book of The Clone Rebellion will be out later this year, what can we expect in the last instalment?
SK: I am just now writing the tenth and final addition to the Harris Saga. The title is The Clone Apocalypse. Here are the opening lines:

"We have a weapon."

"What kind of weapon?"

"A weapon that will kill every last one of them... well, all of them except one."

BP: Do you have any other projects besides writing The Clone Rebellion series?
SK: Oh yes. Oh yes. I have a two-book post-apocalyptic set that I am very excited about. Here is the official description:

Miguel Ramirez is a 16-year-old gang member to whom nothing is sacred.  When he finds himself possessed by one of the barons of Hell, Ramirez learns that other people’s lives are more sacred than his own.

Angeline Ross is a 17-year-old Beverly Hills princess who hopes to go through life without chipping a fingernail.  Waking from an afternoon nap, she discovers that everybody in her home, her neighborhood, and possibly all of Los Angeles has died.  Now she finds herself enlisted in a war against evil that the forces of good cannot possibly win.

The colonel is a retired Marine who returned from Lebanon with a civilian massacre on his conscience.  He welcomes the Demon War as a chance for redemption and death with honor.

SANTA SANGRE begins with the deaths of 38 million Californians, and things go downhill from there.
The first installment in a two-book series, SANTA SANGRE is a 140,000-word cross between The Stand, The Lord of the Rings, and The Exorcist. 

I also have two historical novels about Hawaii, my home, and I am currently working on a book about a submarine disaster from the 1980s.  I am very proud of all of these projects.  I also want to break into juvenile literature... as if any of my books qualify as literature.

BP: What do you like most in writing Science Fiction and Fantasy?
SK: Jasper, writing speculative fiction is like receiving a hall pass to let your mind wander. You get to take "what ifs" to the extreme. In one of his books about novel writing, Orson Scott Card talked about how he liked to imagine working cities. (I think it was cities, it might have been worlds; it's been many years since I read his book.) He would lay them out in working fashion.

He also talks about how he, as an author, likes to play with concepts. He gives, as an example, a planet with two moons. Some authors might revel in the beauty of a double-mooned evening, but he points out the havoc two moons in non-synchronous orbits would wreak on the tides and inhabitants.

World creation opens the door for you to play with concepts.

If you've read any of my novels, you know that my science is anything but hard. That said, I like it when the outside influences of history and science help shape my stories. In this way, I think historical fiction and science fiction have a lot in common. Writing historical fiction, you need to be sensitive to people and events. A story about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table defending the Magna Carta might sound interesting, but history suggests that Lancelot and Galahad would need to be ghosts or zombies risen from their graves.

Hmmmmmm. Lancelot risen from his grave to defend...

Science dictates the workings of science fiction much the same way history impacts historical fiction, only, in science fiction, you get more cheats. Here is the most obvious example--space travel. If man could travel at the speed of light, it would take thousands of decades to travel from Earth to the Scutum-Crux Arm of the galaxy. There are other problems, bigger problems. Scientists are relatively convinced that the galactic eye is dense with stars, you would need a very complex autopilot. Also, there may be this thing called time dilation... All in all, if there were a planet called Terraneau, it wouldn't be worth colonizing considering the time, effort, energy, and cost involved in traveling to visit it.

Enter the Broadcast Network... or space-folding Guild Navigators... or many other cheats. (Personally, I think Frank Herbert's Guild Navigators are the coolest solution I have seen.) You run into a roadblock and you work around it, and it adds strength to your story. It adds character to your story.

I am not saying that science fiction and historical fiction are twins. I agree with the booksellers who have grouped science fiction and fantasy together as "speculative," but I do believe that science fiction and historical fiction are somewhat unique in the way they are subject to forces outside the author's control. I think those forces keep authors on their toes. Some authors, John Ringo, comes to mind as a recent example but Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov are probably the icons of this, are better educated and more observant of science than others. I have a very abiding respect for authors with that kind of knowledge and the skill needed to mold their knowledge into intriguing stories.

Okay, anyway, back on task... Writing speculative fiction lets you play with fun concepts like: What kind of bodies would you create for an army of seasoned citizens whose minds are sharp but their bodies have long since decayed? What would life be like in a battle school for children who have turned into killing machines?  If soldiers experienced time dilation on regular basis, what would they think about new societies that evolved in their absence?

John Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, and Joe Haldeman played with these concepts and created classics that I believe will endure. I believe Old Man's War, Ender's Game, and The Forever War will live on the way iRobot and 2001 A Space Odyssey have lived on. That is what happens when capable authors stumble across worthy concepts and daydream them into reality

BP: Lastly if you would have to recommend your five favourite books, which would they be?
 SK: I listed many of my favorite science fiction novels at the top of the interview, so I am going to broaden to books in general. My list would include:

The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham
Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming
The Green Mile, by Stephen King
Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
The Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky  (No, seriously, I really do love this book!)

Yeah, yeah. I know, that's seven books, you asked for five. I have read all of these books novels multiple times and will can't think which one I could happily remove from the list.

BP: Thank you for your time Steven and good luck with finishing the series!

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