Please welcome James Cambias to The Qwillery. Corsair is published today by Tor Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing James a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel Corsair is published on May 5th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote A Darkling Sea (January 2014) to Corsair?
James: The two books were written in a totally different way. For Darkling Sea I started with the basic idea of the novel and kind of "wrote my way into it." I skipped around within the text, working on different sections as the mood struck me (with the result that when I first thought it was finished my wife pointed out that I forgot to include the middle).
Corsair was based on a short story, and I developed the outline in considerable detail before I ever started writing the book. Especially since a lot of the action is determined by orbital mechanics, I had an externally-imposed timeline I had to fit everything into.
For any space geeks reading this: the timing of events on the way to and from the Moon were based on NASA's detailed timeline of the Apollo 11 mission.
TQ: You are also a game designer. How does this affect (or not) your fiction writing?
James: It gave me the chance to practice the basics and get paid for it; I wrote game adventures and sourcebooks and learned how to write coherent prose and build outlines and meet a deadline.
However, game writing also taught me some habits I had to "unlearn" to write fiction. In a roleplaying game, the story tends to be one of incremental success: the player-characters encounter monsters, overcome them, and thereby become more capable and able to take on more formidable enemies. But in a novel the characters have to spend a lot more time _failing_ before the final climax.
TQ: Tell us something about Corsair that is not in the book description. Is the title literal (corsair = privateer or pirate)?
James: Something which sadly did not make it into the book description is that there's a lot of comedy in it. My main viewpoint character is a pretty funny guy, even though he's also a terrible person.
The title is entirely literal. This is a book about Captain Black the Space Pirate, Supreme Badass of Space, and his nemesis Captain Santiago of Space Command.
TQ: Which character in Corsair was the hardest character to write and why? Easiest and why?
James: The trickiest character in the book was probably Captain Elizabeth Santiago, simply because I had to find out as much as I could about proper military operations and conduct. I'm pretty certain active-duty military personnel will spot many mistakes, and I hope they will be forgiving.
The easiest was David's foil Halfdan. I love Halfdan. I could write Halfdan all day. He is absolutely insane, incredibly annoying, and if there's a sequel I'm definitely bringing him back.
TQ: Both Corsair and A Darkling Sea are Science Fiction. Is Corsair hard SF like A Darkling Sea? In your opinion, should Science Fiction deal with 'big issues' or simply be entertaining?
James: Despite the fact that it's about space pirates, Corsair is pure hard science fiction. Indeed, it's a lot "harder" than Darkling Sea, as it includes no imaginary science (like the faster-than-light drive). In thirty years all this could be happening over our heads.
As to the question of "issues" or entertainment, I've long maintained that it's a false dichotomy. -Moby Dick- is considered one of the most profound novels in American literature. Herman Melville wrote it to cash in on the public's interest in whaling. It was his "airport novel."
Corsair touches on some pretty heavy issues: the globalization of organized crime; the increasingly blurry lines between crime, terrorism, and government operations; the exploitation of refugees; the expanding surveillance state; and some others. It also has boat chases, space battles, and buried treasure.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Corsair.
James: My favorite line in the book comes during some hostage negotiations. One of the bad guys, Vlad Draganovic, has kidnapped Anne Rogers and is trying to persuade Captain Santiago to give him Captain Black. But she is playing chicken with him over the phone.
“Because—” He groped for words. “—it’s your job! You are a soldier, yes? You defend your country. She is an American citizen, so you must protect her. I am a dangerous man. Maybe I torture her before killing her. You don’t want that.”
“I have other problems.”
“It is common human decency! What is wrong with you?” he shouted into the phone.
TQ: What's next?
James: I'm currently working on a third novel called -Arkad's World-, a coming-of-age story about a human boy alone on an alien planet. I'm hoping it will be done in time for a 2016 release, but right now that's not certain.
Corsair Publisher: Tor Books, May 5, 2015 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages List Price: $25.99 (print) ISBN: 9780765379108 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
Space pirates and computer hackers in a thrilling near-future adventure.
The year is 2020 and robotic mining in space has become a lucrative part of Earth’s economy. Precious materials are gathered from asteroids and dropped down the gravity well to be collected out of the oceans. But just as the commerce has evolved, so has the crime, and piracy is a booming market with hackers doing all they can to get their piece of the prize.
Ten years prior, computer wizards Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz met at MIT: She was there to begin a promising career in data security; he was there to sneak into classes. After a brief affair David disappears—and neither ever dream their paths will cross again.
Now an Intelligence Operative working to prevent international space piracy, Elizabeth has been fighting a particularly skilled hacker…whose style seems eerily familiar. Soon they go head to head over some particularly valuable cargo—but as always when the steaks are that high, there’s more danger lurking than either can imagine.
From the author of the critically acclaimed A Darkling Sea comes another thrilling space adventure that will appeal to fans of Star Trek and Star Wars. With genuine characters and action not overwrought by exaggeration, this is a clean, hard SF standalone novel that is sure to impress and entertain.
Corsair is James Cambias' second novel. It's set in the not so distance future (2020 and 2030) and features Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz whose lives intersect years after dating. The Moon is being mined for Helium by Westinghouse and shipments from the Moon to the Earth are sometimes hijacked by space pirates as they drop from lunar orbit to the Earth. The most blatant and brilliant of the pirates is David aka Captain Black. Elizabeth works for the military trying to stop pirates like David.
David is more than a bit of a jerk, is incredibly intelligent, and is motivated by pure self interest. He has justifications for his actions but they ring hollow. He's a thief and a pirate because he can be and because he wants to be rich. He is also very amusing and despite his many faults I find him likable.
Elizabeth joined the military but runs into trouble with her superiors for being too aggressive in her attempts to protect Helium shipments. She's sent to another job where she will supposedly be under the radar for a while. Elizabeth is very driven and has a lot of trouble dealing with failure. She also does what seem to be and are sometimes wrong things for what are the right reasons.
To say that things go badly for David and Elizabeth is a bit of an understatement. They are both in trouble. In the end, they need each other's help to save more than themselves. Cambias lets us see different sides to Elizabeth and David - they are certainly not one dimensional.
In addition to David and Elizabeth there is a truly fine cast of supporting characters - from the really nice, the really odd, to the extremely menacing. The science is fascinating, but never overwhelms the story. Nor do the deeper issues raised by the novel. There is a lot to think about in Corsair if one is so inclined.
Corsair is full of intriguing science, evil plots, and schemes. Cambias has crafted an engaging nail-biter that is exciting, fun and a satisfying read.
James Cambias is a co-founder of Zygote Games and has written several table top role-play game tie in novels. His short fiction has appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Shimmer, and several other anthologies. In 2001 he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his family. Visit him online at jamescambias.com.