Monday, October 6, 2008
John (Jack Campbell) Hemry Interview
Thank you to John Hemry for doing this interview. I will comment afterwards.
FOCUS ON SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY(FOSFF): I picked up the three "Lost Fleet" novels. Why are you writing them under a pen name?
JOHN HEMRY(JH): The pen name was required because of the way the publishing industry works these days. The major bookstore chains use software to order books, and the software bases orders on earlier sales. If the software decides an author's sales aren't good enough, then it orders fewer copies of their next book to be displayed on the bookstore shelves, which means fewer copies sell, which means it orders even less next time, which means even less sell then, and so on. Like many other authors, I'd been caught in that death spiral, but using a pen name immediately resets the situation since the software sees you as a new writer and orders enough copies for the stores to give the next book a chance of taking off. Happily, this is what happened with the Lost Fleet series.
FOSFF: I can see the influence of Battlestar Galactica and Gene Roddenbery's Andromeda. Were they part of what inspired the "Lost Fleet"?
JH: The inspirations were actually far older. I'd been wondering for some time if it was possible to do a plausible space-based version of Xenophon's March of the Ten Thousand. Part of the Lost Fleet derives directly from that ancient scenario. The other inspiration lay in old legends about heroes, which often claimed the hero wasn't really dead, but only sleeping and would awaken to save the day when the need was greatest. King Arthur is perhaps the most familiar example of that story. But such heroes were probably just people who saw themselves as not special, and would be amazed and shocked to learn about the legends which had grown around them. So I imagined such a hero, one who had no choice but to try to live up to the legend because otherwise the people looking to him for hope would be truly lost. Another historical aspect of that was considering how a trained Roman military officer appearing in the Dark Ages would have been able to apply forgotten lessons on how to fight smart as well as bravely, if the knights could be convinced to listen to him.
FOSFF: How many "Lost Fleet" novels are you planning?
JH: Three more novels are already done or contracted. The fourth (Valiant) comes out in June, 2008, and I'm working on Relentless and Victorious.
The fleet actually gets home at the end of Relentless, but there's a great deal left for the hero and the fleet to do so the story arc started in Dauntless ends in Victorious.
FOSFF: "The Bookseller of Bastet" was an excellent short story. Did a particular incident in your life lead you to writing it?
JH: Thank you. Some time ago I read an appreciation about an Iraqi bookseller in Baghdad who had been killed in a car bombing. I felt a need to somehow acknowledge people like that, the ones who lived for books and kept selling books no matter what, but it took a while for the right story to develop. I'm glad it seems to have worked, because I do think those who treasure books are special.
FOSFF: Did any of the classic science fiction authors influence you? Based on the stories I have seen, I would think Gordon R. Dickson and Poul Anderson.
JH: Poul Anderson was always a favorite, and a bit depressing once I started writing, because whenever I thought I was getting the hang of things I'd read something of his and think "I'll never be as good as that." I also read Dickson, Heinlein, and H. Beam Piper, and a lot of Andre Norton. Zelazny is another favorite, as is Leigh Brackett. I'm certain they all influenced me a great deal. My novelette "Lady Be Good" was very much a tribute to Brackett.
FOSFF: Do you have any future stories(short stories or novels) that you can tell us about?
JH: I never know when a solid short story is going to come together. I have three partially completed right now, but don't know if they'll work out. I do want to write more of my time travel stories featuring my temporal interventionists (the latest being "These Are the Times" in the November 2007 Analog). My novel work is focused on the last two Lost Fleet books right now. After those, I'll probably do related books in the same universe if the demand exists. I also want to try to continue the JAG in Space series which preceeded the Lost Fleet but didn't find a big enough audience then even though the books were well-reviewed. I have a Young Adult SF series (suitable for adults) which my agent is trying to sell right now, and I'm also considering trying to get approval to do a sequel to Piper's Space Viking and Cosmic Computer novels.
FOSFF: What do you hope to be writing 10-15 years from now?
JH: Stories that people like to read, and perhaps help them think about things they might not otherwise have considered. I like writing SF and to a lesser extent fantasy, but I can also see doing some historical novels and alternate histories.
FOSFF: What are your thoughts on the future of science fiction?
JH: I think SF has a good future as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously. By that I mean it has to remain focused on telling the story, rather than trying to be Literary. I think SF lost a lot of ground to fantasy because fantasy remained focused on stories of wonder and possibilities. One of the early reviews of Dauntless suggested it was the sort of story that could have been serialized in John Campbell's Astounding, which was meant as a put-down, but I've heard from many people who said that motivated them to buy the book because they missed those kinds of stories. Homer's Odyssey was about people exploring new worlds, facing amazing challenges and meeting a variety of strange beings (which also describes the original Star Trek). That sort of tale has been around as long as humanity, and when told well it still captivates. A good story will endure. Writing one is the hard part.
My favorite line from the interview was "One of the early reviews of Dauntless suggested it was the sort of story that could have been serialized in John Campbell's Astounding, which was meant as a put-down, but I've heard from many people who said that motivated them to buy the book because they missed those kinds of stories." This is enough to get me to buy his books. John Campbell's Astounding was one of the highlights of the Golden Age. Many of the classic science fiction stories appeared there. I don't know where science fiction would be today without the influence of Campbell on authors such as Asimov and Heinlein. We need to remember and build upon the legacy left by the classic authors.
I hope he gets the rights to do sequels to H. Beam Piper's books. I read Space Viking and Cosmic Computer many years ago and enjoyed both of them.
I have picked up the first 3 Lost Fleet novels and will be reviewing them in the future.