Prolific science-fiction author Richard Fox, the mastermind behind The Ember War saga, has a full plate on his schedule. He’s currently working on his fifth and last novel in his Terran Armor Corps series as well as a new book in his Albion Lost series. Not only that, but he was just nominated for a Nebula Award. I got to chat with him with about all of that and more.
Bounding Into Comics (BIC): You are working on the fifth book in your Terran Strike Marines series, what can you tell me about it?
Richard Fox (Richard): GOTT MIT UNS is the 5th and last novel in that series, which is intertwined with the Dragon Award winning Terran Armor Corps. The Strike Marines take part in some of the action from the last TAC story, FERRUM CORDE(lots of Latin and German happening in these titles…) but have another plot arc that answers a few dangling questions at the end of FERRUM CORDE.
The co-author and I, Scott Moon, are working to keep the action grounded on the leatherneck Marines, and we’ve got a real curveball (but a plausible one!) planned for the second half of the book.
BIC: You served in the Army and were deployed to Iraq twice, how do you apply your experience to your writing?
Richard: It cut down on a lot of research. Living through almost ten years of active duty service, two deployments to Iraq and associated training gave me a depth of military knowledge that I can draw from. Knowing how soldiers talk to each other, operational planning, the gripes and complaints of the average guy in the fox hole all add to my military sci fi.
So when it’s time to write The Suck. I know The Suck. That sounds dirty, but makes sense to the Veterans out there.
Now, it’s not a prerequisite to have served to write military sci fi. Tom Clancy is still the gold standard for military thrillers, and he never spent a day in uniform. He was a real estate agent with a library card.
BIC: You’ve also got a new book coming out in your Albion Lost series, what can we expect?
Richard: A different space opera than The Ember War Universe books. Different tech, different back story, different antagonist. The Exiled Fleet universe has no aliens. It’s a return to the last Albion fleet as it’s on the run from the sudden and overwhelming invasion by the mysterious Daegon.
The third book, THEIR FINEST HOUR, has the Albion survivors with their backs against the wall and new powers joining the war.
BIC: You were just nominated for a Nebula Award for your short story Going Dark, what’s it about?
Richard: GOING DARK is the story Doughboys, construct soldiers that live to fight. They aren’t the most autonomous or smart individuals, and need a regular human to lead them. When the Doughboys begin to fail, their leader, Hoffman from the Terran Strike Marine series, has to come to terms with some very hard truths.
It’s a short story and a prequel to the Terran Strike Marine series. You can read it as part of the Backblast Area Clear anthology or listen to it for free over on Audfans (https://audfans.com/book/going-dark-terran-strike-marines).
Several readers have reported being a little vaclempt by the end. Good. That was the point.
BIC: What does getting nominated for a Nebula Award mean to you?
Richard: It’s quite a surprise. I’ve been writing full time for a little over three years, and to get a nod from my peers in SFWA that I delivered something that really stands apart is humbling.
BIC: What do you think your chances of winning are?
Richard: To everyone else that’s nominated: May thy knife chip and shatter!
No. I kid I kid. I just look for ways to work Dune references into everything.
My chances? Who knows. There’s enough time for all the voting members to read all the short stories and decide which is the best from 2018. I’ll be at the conference and the awards banquet.
BIC: Do you have any other short stories in the works?
Richard: I will do a story about an immortal that never asked to be that way, and is struggling with being ageless and very different from the humans around her. A long dark night of the soul to come to grips with her future, or to decide if Camus was right about the only serious philosophical question.
BIC: How much research do you put into the technical and scientific aspects of your series?
Richard: I have a BS in Military History (yes, really) and studied a good deal of physics and math in college. My Army time had me involved with a good deal of technology and an inordinate amount of time dealing with the construction of homemade explosives.
But when it comes to writing fiction, the emphasis has to be on story and plot. Spending pages and pages to justify or explain the tech in a story just kills pacing, in my opinion, and I avoid it where possible.
I will discuss the high points of the tech involved, just enough to set the stage for the reader and not too enough to bog them down in details. If people want long science explanations to everything, Wikipedia is there.
Quantum physics does crop up in the Ember War books fairly often. I know more than the average bear about quantum weirdness and don’t expect my readers to know more than that quantum entanglement exists and can be used for communication.
The Many-Worlds Interpretation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation) is a major plot point in the Ember War Saga, and how I explained it with a question of ‘What’s in this box?’ kept readers’ nose from bleeding while trying to grasp that concept.
BIC: What’s your favorite scene or interaction you’ve ever written?
Richard: Which finger do you want me to cut off? The last stand of the Iron Hearts and other Armor soldiers in THE XAROS RECKONING sticks with me. I originally wrote in an escape for some of the fan favorite characters, but the characters just would not cooperate with me, and I realized that it was more true to those characters for them to go out the way that they did.
The Armor were always fearless through the Ember War Saga. At the end they faced down a god and ripped out its heart.
BIC: What would you say are the greatest influences on your science fiction writing? Is there a specific author you look up to?
Richard: Dan Abnett is my hero. His Eisenhorn trilogy deserves far more attention and respect than it’s received so far. He wrote the most perfect character arc I’ve ever read, and I still feel like a slice of ham compared to Abnett’s banquet.
When I was a kid, I used to wait all week for Saturday afternoons, because that’s when I could watch Babylon 5, Star Trek TNG and DS9 and other sci fi shows. I used to lose the fight for the TV to my brother and sisters, and had to watch on this tiny black and white portable TV in the kitchen.
My allowance always went to Star Trek and Star Wars paperbacks and I had a group of friends at school to swap books with.
I had Robocop and Dune on VHS and watched those movies way too many times.
I discovered Warhammer 40,000 in college and began reading that in earnest after graduating. Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lord trilogy is outstanding.
I’ve been doing a lot of Harlan Ellison reading lately. We lost a gem when he passed.
BIC: You’ve built an expansive universe with The Ember War and you’ve begun branching out into comics, are there plans for more comics, or possibly a television series, maybe a feature film?
Richard: The comic is nearly complete and will ship to backers on schedule. You can still get your perks now before we close the drive for good (check it out here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-ember-war-graphic-novel/x/18994805#/)
We’re waiting to see how it sells in retail before we decide to do THE RUINS OF ANTHALAS as a graphic novel.
I am working with an animation studio to put together an 8-10 minute demo film, and once we have that we’ll go searching for a network to pick up the rights. We’re spending more time to get the look just right with the art.
Rumor is that Production IG is redoing the Legend of Galactic Heroes anime. So there’s a demand for military space opera as animation, and The Ember War fits that bill!
BIC: Aside from your own works are there any major franchises you would like to write about?
Richard: I would love to write Star Wars. To the best of my knowledge, there’s not been a story focused on storm troopers (I have an unfinished set of TK armor that I need to get done to join the 501st) and I think I could deliver that.
And if The Black Library (Warhammer 40,000) calls, I’ll pick up the phone.
BIC: How do you see the current state of science fiction? I know there has been quite the controversy with the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Richard: This is a great time to write sci fi. Some days it feels like we’re living in the future with the advances in drones and telecommunications. The great news is that readers are hungry for new and great stories, and it has never been easier for a writer to get their work out onto shelves. Digital shelves, at least.
If you’re an Indy writer that can deliver quality work on a regular basis with a great cover, editing and written to market…the world is your oyster.
Trad authors have a harder time of it. They’re still at mercy of their publisher’s schedule and editor decisions.
Thing about being an Indy author, you have agency. Something doesn’t work in your book or launch? It’s all on you. You fix it or its your fault. If you depend on a publisher, it’s too easy to give up responsibility of your own success and pin it on other people.
I’m at a loss to explain some of the things happening with what’s coming out of the Big 5 publishers. Sensitivity readers? Seriously?
Writing is art. And art is meant to make people feel. Books are emotion engines and a good writer will take a reader on a journey that will leave them changed by the end, and that’s what readers want. Reading is escapism. Diving into a story for hours on end takes people out of the pain that is their Facebook feed, their job, their boring commute, their problems.
We as writers have a duty to make our readers feel and take them out of the workaday world.
Giving up a manuscript to a sensitivity reader that will go through and remove anything that would push people into new territory or *gasp* an idea they might object to, kills the drama. Life is not bubble wrapped. If your reading is dumbed down to the point of pablum, what the hell is the point? Read the back of your cereal box or a Wikipedia article on grits. It’ll have the same emotional impact.
Anytime I hear of a new trad pub author gaining traction, I am usually disappointed by their book. They feel like they’re written by a committee and written from a place of fear. Fear that they’ll upset the ever shifting secret standards of the Twitter outrage brigade. No one will create great art if they’re writing from fear.
See also: Russian literature during the USSR.You can catch up on Richard Fox’s Terran Strike Marines series by picking up the first book The Dotari Salvation.