Please welcome Jay Allan to The Qwillery. Enemy in the Dark (Far Stars 2) was published on December 1st by Harper Voyager.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. You've written many novels in several series. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Jay: Thank you. It is great to be here.
I am without question a pantser, though deep down I want to be a plotter. I sometimes dream of detailed outlines and rich bibles full of character traits and motivations, but I always end up just diving in. For better or worse, my stories come as I’m writing, and all my attempts at serious plotting turn into sessions of staring at a legal pad.
TQ: Your most recently published novel is Enemy in the Dark, the 2nd novel in the Far Stars Trilogy. Please tell us something about Enemy in the Dark that is not found in the book description.
Jay: It’s hard to answer this too deeply without giving away spoilers, but Enemy in the Dark is definitely the pivot point in the series. There are a lot of hints about Blackhawk’s past in Shadow of Empire, but in book two it all catches up with him in a profound way, and he is forced to take some drastic actions as a result. The first book hints about Blackhawk’s history, but in Enemy in the Dark it comes front and center, for the reader and for the other characters.
I’d also say Enemy in the Dark is where Blackhawk and his people join the fight against the empire in a complete and wholehearted way. In book one their commitment is conditional, but by the end of Enemy in the Dark they are all in and damned the cost.
TQ: What inspired you to write the Far Stars Trilogy? What appeals to you about writing Military Science Fiction? What distinguishes Military SF from other types of SF?
Jay: The short (and less philosophical) answer is that it’s something I’ve read for a very long time, so when I sat down to write, I naturally gravitated to it. On a slightly deeper level, I’m a bit of an amateur historian, and it doesn’t take too intensive a study of the past to speculate that there will be enormous conflict in the future. I don’t find utopian science fiction to be terribly believable, and if I’m going to tell the story of a dark and dangerous future, why not do it from the perspective of those on the front lines?
To me, the basic definition of military science fiction is that it tells a story more or less from the perspective of those fighting in some kind of conflict. They could be soldiers or revolutionaries…or just a group of adventurers caught in some kind of struggle. I do think there are several levels to the genre however, and different readers will have different standards, including some more literal interpretations of the “military” in military science fiction.
Writing a series is such a consuming task, looking back and identifying the initial inspiration isn’t always easy. My writing seems to tend toward reluctant heroes, often dragged somewhat unwillingly into whatever drama is unfolding in the book. The Far Stars began in my mind as the idea of this kind of hero, but this time one with a really dark past, one who had been a villain…and a victim too. Without going into any spoilers, I wanted to write a series around this kind of struggle, one that tests the limits of redemption. So I’d have to say I had Blackhawk pretty well thought out early on, and I built the rest of the series around him.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for the Far Stars Trilogy?
Jay: It’s very tempting to talk of endless hours digging through obscure tomes by flickering candlelight, but the truth is, The Far Stars is pretty much a pure space opera, and there was almost no real research involved. My education is in engineering, so I’ve got enough physics to handle general plausibility in a science fiction setting, and I really didn’t need anything else for the series. I’m sure I drew on some aspects of history in crafting the storyline, but nothing that drove me to the books, so to speak. My earlier Crimson Worlds series is harder military science fiction, and when I was writing that I did a fair amount of research into military customs, tactics, and equipment.
TQ: Which themes do you touch on the Far Stars Trilogy?
Jay: Redemption, certainly. Blackhawk is a character who has done terrible things…but he is also the hero of the series, who ultimately puts himself on the line to save the Far Stars from imperial domination. I tried to keep that arc of the story fairly complex, something beyond, “he did a bad thing and then he did a good thing to make up for it.” Blackhawk certainly earns some level of redemption, but his past continues to affect his life and his choices throughout the series, in ways that I think are quite powerful. I tend to like characters with complex motivations and drives, and not so much the “snow white” hero and “dark as night” villain.
Duty is another central theme, and leadership as well. I tend to think that in the real world, the selfless, great leader is more often a myth than a reality, something that exists mostly in peoples’ minds because it is comforting to believe in. I generally don’t like to utterly ignore reality in my books, but I think we all find the dedicated leader, uninterested in personal aggrandizement and devoted to making a real difference, to be incredibly compelling. It flies in the face of my normal cynicism, but then this is fiction, after all. A guilty pleasure, perhaps.
TQ: In the Far Stars Trilogy who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Jay: I’d say Marshal Lucerne was the easiest in many ways. He’s a creature of duty, one whose entire life has been devoted to a cause. I wanted to be sure to show the cost of his steadfastness on those around him, and the sorrow he carries for how his loved ones have been neglected and hurt by the relentlessness of his quest. Still, even with all of that, he just came together easily. I had a clear image of him when I sat down to start typing, and the end character is just what I had envisioned on day one.
Blackhawk was the hardest, for a lot of reasons. I don’t like unspotted heroes and the simplified, pasteurized morality that goes with them. Human beings are more complex than that, and I think fictional characters should be too. But Blackhawk takes that to another level. This character has a very dark past, one that torments him and in many ways drives him. One of the biggest challenges in writing him was keeping much of that a mystery, revealing bits and pieces, but not too much, too quickly. That was a significant challenge, as the character’s past is central to what drives him. There is both good and evil inside him, and even while he is fighting to save the Far Stars, he draws much of his strength from his dark side. Showing what makes Blackhawk tick turned out to be pretty complicated, but my awesome editor David over at Harper Voyager helped me round things out and really bring the character to life. I was very satisfied with the result.
TQ: Which question about the Far Stars Trilogy do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Jay: Where can I buy it?
Okay, seriously, I guess it would be, “What did you set out to do differently in The Far Stars as compared to your other books, and why?”
As I noted, my Crimson Worlds series and most of my other books are pretty much mainstream military science fiction. I paid a lot of attention to the details of the battles and the science in those books, and the settings are plausible futures extrapolated from the real world (in a science fiction sense, of course). I’m very happy with those books, and they have all done very well, but I always wanted to write a pure space opera. I didn’t abandon scientific plausibility or serious descriptions of the fighting in the Far Stars, but there is definitely an air of swashbuckling adventure that belongs to this series alone among my works. And there was a decided lack of swordplay in my other books, something I can assure readers is not a problem with the Far Stars!
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from either Shadow of Empire or Enemy in the Dark.
Jay: It’s not easy to come up with something without a touch of spoiler to it, but there is a scene where Blackhawk encounters someone from his past, his dark, long-ago past. The imperial tries to coax Blackhawk into giving up, promising to help him gain the emperor’s forgiveness and favor, but he answers that he doesn’t want the emperor’s approval. Then he says, “Those days you view as a time of glory—they are my great shame.” To me, this is where Blackhawk goes from running from his past and trying to hide to actively committing to the fight against the empire and truly seeking to atone for all his sins.
TQ: What's next?
Jay: I’ve got two projects in the works right now. One is called Newton-5, and it will be a book that explores the future of artificial intelligence and its potential impact on the world. I think this is a pretty compelling topic right now, as technology in the real world is getting to the point where a lot of science fiction themes seem downright plausible, the very helpful and the very dangerous AI being two of them. I’m still at an early stage, and I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m really excited about this one. The Far Stars was something a bit different from what I had done before, and this will be as well. This will be my first book set more or less in the present day (perhaps twenty years in the future). And if I’m back here next year talking about this book, it will be a great one for the question on research, because it’s requiring a ton!
I’m also starting a new series called Uprising. It’s going to be harder military science fiction than the Far Stars series, and it will follow the outbreak of a revolution on a colony world, and the progression of that conflict to its final resolution. I find rebellion to be a fascinating subject, and I intend to get deep inside the motivations of the participants and to cover the darker aspects that can emerge during such historical events. Think Washington and Lafayette alongside Robespierre and the Jacobins…with a little bit of Lenin and Stalin thrown in for good measure.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Jay: Thank you for having me!
Shadow of Empire
Far Stars 1
Harper Voyager, November 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
The first installment in the Far Star series, a swashbuckling space saga that introduces the daring pirate Blackhawk and the loyal crew of the Wolf’s Claw, from the author of the bestselling Crimson Worlds saga.
Smuggler and mercenary Arkarin Blackhawk and the crew of the ship Wolf’s Claw are freelance adventurers who live on the fringe of human society in the Far Stars. A veteran fighter as deadly with a blade as he is with a gun, Blackhawk is a man haunted by a dark past. Even his cynicism cannot banish the guilt and pain that threaten his sanity.
Sent to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his longtime friend Marshal Augustin Lucerne, Blackhawk and his crew find themselves drawn into one deadly fight after another. When the Wolf’s Claw is damaged, they are forced to land on a remote planet subsumed by civil war. Pulled unwittingly into the conflict, they uncover disturbing information about secret imperial involvement that could upset the plans of Lucerne.
For the Marshal is determined to forge a Far Stars Confederation powerful enough to eliminate all imperial influence and threats in the sector. He needs a skilled warrior like Blackhawk on his side, but the mercenary, plagued by dark memories from the past, refuses to join the cause. All too soon, though, he and his crew will have to take a stand.
Enemy in the Dark
Far Stars 2
Harper Voyager, December 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
The second book in the Far Star series follows Blackhawk and the crew of the Wolf’s Claw as they are gradually (and unwillingly) drawn more deeply into Marshal Lucerne’s campaign to form a united power bloc in the Far Stars to resist imperial encroachment.
Successfully completing their mission to rescue Marshal Augustin Lucerne’s daughter, Astra, the crew of the Wolf’s Claw are enjoying some well-deserved rest—all, that is, except Blackhawk. The space gun for hire cannot escape Lucerne’s relentless pleas for help against growing imperial control in the Far Stars. While Blackhawk deeply respects his friend, he fears that the power Lucerne offers will lead him back to his old dark ways.
His resistance crumbles, however, when Lucerne presents evidence that the imperial governor has been manipulating the conflicts in the Far Stars. Convinced of the deadly danger of imperial domination, Blackhawk and his crew board the Wolf’s Claw once more and set out to gather intelligence on the Empire’s movements—the proof Lucerne needs to unite the fractured and feuding worlds of the Far Stars into single power bloc capable of resisting imperial aggression. But deep in the sparsely populated territory of the Far Stars, he discovers that the imperial governor’s machinations are far reaching—and threaten the independence of every world this side of the Void.
A man seemingly running from himself, Blackhawk is beginning to realize he can no longer remain a prisoner to his own past while the future of the Far Stars is in jeopardy.
Far Stars 3
Harper Voyager, January 19, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 464 pages
The Far Stars stands on the edge of a precipice. The forces of Governor Vos have surged forth, conquering worlds and imposing the emperor’s brutal rule over millions. Only one thing stands in the way of total victory: Marshal Augustin Lucerne’s newly created confederation. Vos has a simple plan: assassinate the marshal and manipulate his generals to fight over his legacy, destroying one another in the process.
But another threat lurks—Arkarin Blackhawk. The smuggler and mercenary has been the marshal’s ally, working in the shadows and unraveling Vos’s plans. The governor can only hope the mysterious adventurer continues to resist a formal position with the confederation.
Or he can have Blackhawk assassinated, too.
Because if Blackhawk succeeds Lucerne, the black-and-gold imperial flags will be stained red with blood. Blackhawk’s past is a dark and dangerous one, and if he is put at the helm of the confederation armies, the brutal imperial general he once was may rise again.
The Far Stars is facing the final battle. The imperials seem unstoppable. But if Blackhawk somehow survives—and can come to grips with the horror deep within him—he just might be able to save the Far Stars from the iron hand of the empire.
JAY ALLAN is a former investor and the author of the Crimson Worlds series. When not writing, he enjoys traveling, running, hiking and reading. He loves hearing from readers and always answers e-mails. He currently lives in New York City.