Rick Overwater is a longtime Calgary-based writer and musician. He likes guitars and short sentences.
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I first entered science fiction through the Heinlein portal and owe my love of of space adventure to those early books. Author Brent Nichols nails the feel of those stories in Stars Like Cold Fire, his latest book on Bundoran Press. An effortless, compelling read from a prolific new Calgary writer, it deserves its place on your bookshelf beside your favourite classics.
Laid-back and friendly as all get-out, possessed of a dry, deadly-bulls-eye-accurate wit that doesn’t come through in email exchanges, Brent is worth seeking out at any writer/book events he may be attending. Until you can, read this. Brent was kind enough to tell us a bit about Stars Like Cold Fire.
• This is classic old-school space sci-fi. Did you make a conscious decision to write that kind of book, or did it just spill out naturally? And in terms of your own literary influences, where did this come from?
I didn’t really have a particular
style in mind as a goal when I started writing Stars Like Cold Fire. I grew up
reading Robert Heinlein and similar authors; I always loved adventure stories
set in outer space. When the seed of an idea came along, that was the soil in
my brain where it grew. I wasn’t aiming for old-school, I was just showing my
• In the future you depict, China has a history as one of the original space superpowers. You took some time to map out how some culture from Earth
as we know it today still exists in life among the stars. Tell us a bit about
the thought process behind that.
Much of the science fiction I grew up with was written by white American guys, and it reflected their point of view. I grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, reading stuff that was written in the Fifties and Sixties, and in those days not many people were really challenging ethnocentrism. It felt perfectly natural to assume that North American culture would dominate humanity’s future.
Cultures rise and fall, though.
When I try to imagine the galaxy in four or five hundred years, assuming we’ve
managed to reach the stars, I can’t assume that white Anglophones will always
lead the way. I don’t know what the future holds, but it won’t be a
straightforward extrapolation of mid-twentieth-century North America projected
I can easily imagine a future where China has played a major role in the exploration and colonization of space, so I brought that into the book. I wanted to explore issues of discrimination and reverse discrimination, to explore the evolution of racism, and to do it without an assumption that white people will always be at the top of the power structure. I think racism will be with us for a long time, but I don’t think it will look the same as it does now.
• You do a great job of setting up conflict for Jeff Yi, from a variety of angles. Tell us about that from a story-building perspective.
When the premise of the story occurred to me, it happily included all kinds of built-in conflict, which made things easy for me as a writer. I knew that I wanted conflict on two main levels, namely the big external conflict of interstellar war and the personal, human-level, largely social and emotional conflict of an officer with a crew that resents him. The beautiful thing about war stories is that they inherently contain both kinds of conflict. Soldiers face all the practical challenges and danger of combat, and they face the interpersonal challenges of working as part of a team under stressful conditions.
On a half-unconscious level I sifted through a lot of the stuff that my ten-year-old self thought was cool in novels and in episodes of Star Trek and I went looking for organic ways to fit it all in. Ship-to-ship combat. Man-to-man combat in the corridors. The prolonged, quiet tension of an inexperienced officer stuck with a resentful crew. An assassination attempt. Courtroom drama. Space elves who can kill you with their minds. Identical twin Russian stripper assassins. I never found a way to fit in the space elves or the stripper assassins, but the rest of it is in there, and it all feels like it belongs.
• Among other things that you need in this kind of novel, you power your spacecraft with the Rasmussen Drive. Give us a little insight into setting up the science of this novel.
Modern science tells us that faster-than-light travel is inherently impossible, which gives a kind of carte blanche to a science fiction writer. No one can point at an author’s FTL engine and say, “That’s not how REAL faster-than-light engines work!” I think of Rasmussen engines as plot-powered. How do they work? They work as I need them to work.
I didn’t want to deal with the limitations
of sub-light travel, and I didn’t want the hassle of things like time dilation.
My characters don’t age more slowly as they travel, which is something that
happens as you approach light speed. Since the Rasmussen Drive is faster than
light, it’s immune to the phenomena of sublight physics.
Good space opera contains technology that’s a bit hand-wavy. Warp bubbles, hyperspace, wormholes, that sort of thing. Rasmussen engines are part of that tradition. They put the ship into N-Space, where it can travel at many times the speed of light. I didn’t want instantaneous travel, because I wanted my characters to be stuck together on a small ship for a long journey. A Rasmussen drive lets you cross several light years in a day, because that’s what suited my plot.
• You’re working on sequel to this for Bundoran Press. What can we expect?
By the end of Stars Like Cold
Fire Jeff Yi is still on a fascist hit list, so the same pressures that led the
admiralty to give him command of a guppy are still in place. Jeff will get a
new ship, just about as small as the last one, and a (mostly) new crew. His
nation is at war, so he’ll have a dangerous new mission.
As far as personal journeys go, I
want to respect the fact that he’s gained in wisdom and experience and acquired
some hard-won confidence as an officer. I won’t have him repeat that arc.
Instead he’s going to face new challenges, new stresses, with a new crew, as he
goes deep behind enemy lines.
• What else are you working on? Is most of what you write in this vein, or do you explore other kinds of fiction at all?
Currently I’m working on the sequel to Stars Like Cold Fire, tentatively titled The Light of a Distant Sun. Look for it in independent bookstores in September 2017, or at When Words Collide.
Lately I’ve focused my attention on military science fiction. I’ve just completed a self-published trilogy called The Hive Invasion, under the pen name Jake Elwood. I’m happy to say the trilogy is doing really well right now on Amazon. I’ve written science fiction in a few sub-genres, and some sword and sorcery as well as some steampunk. My successes have all come from military science fiction or space opera, though, so that’s where I’ll be focusing for the next little while.
Go here to find this book and learn about Brent:
Jake Elwood’s author website: JakeElwoodWriter.com
Books by Jake Elwood on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jake-Elwood/e/B012QJVUWE/
Stars Like Cold Fire at Bundoran Press:
Stars Like Cold Fire on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQQBPKE/
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