From Michael, at Dragon’s Lair Books.
What was your inspiration for Arkuun-Marl?
Arkuun-Marl just seemed to come along on his own. I was almost as surprised as Jindor when the android appeared in the back of his new ship. Perhaps, as Jin Li points out, no adventure is complete without a robot sidekick! Or maybe I put them in the wrong ship. As for his ‘humour’, that came about by itself too. I never try to find something for him to say; he just says it.
He is capable of learning and adapting which, combined with his original programming, means that he basically has his own unique personality. He believes himself to be entirely unique – as displayed by his simple desire to be referred to as ‘he’ rather than ‘it’ – and to anyone who didn’t know better, he might very well come across as a true intelligence, rather than a programmed, limited robot.
Why do you have three levels of computer intelligences?
The three levels are Virtual Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, and Synthetic Intelligence. Some robots (a general term for all forms of machine with these intelligences) don’t need the kind of intelligence Arkuun-Marl, for example, has. It made sense, therefore, to create different levels of intelligence.
Virtual Intelligence is installed in mechs, drones and most ship computers. They have a basic level of interaction with organics, such as speech recognition and limited responses.
Artificial Intelligence is what Arkuun-Marl has. Androids and more expensive, sophisticated computers have this intelligence. It simulates real intelligence such as possessed by organics. AIs have the ability to think for themselves and learn to a degree, therefore sometimes developing unique personalities. A lot of blocks are present in their programming to prevent them becoming SIs.
Synthetic Intelligence is illegal across the entire galaxy. It is highly dangerous, unpredictable and raises problematic moral questions no species is willing to deal with. No SI exists in the time Shadow of the Wraith is set. Synthetic Intelligence is true, synthetic life. They think, perhaps feel, and can learn at an exponential rate. The first SI humanity created started a war and was well on the way to wiping life from the planet.
Why did you decide to have so many characters as opposed to just two or three?
The Star Wraith is thought to be some kind of ghost ship – but that’s just a name. Nobody knows what’s aboard, and so sending Travis Archer alone would be unwise. He is told to put together small team that can deal with anything they find aboard, and so he calls on some old friends. Each of them has a particular skill that makes them valuable to the mission, or a vested interest in discovering what the Wraith is doing.
When they discover that the Wraith is not quite what they’ve been told, none of them have any real thoughts of leaving Archer alone to deal with what comes next.
So it was more a result of story development than a decision. I don’t think it is difficult to keep up with who’s who or anything, so I didn’t try to cut the team size down. Eight team members to take down a homicidal ghost ship, battle assassins and terrorists, and end a war.
Again, things like this tend not to be my decision. I don’t plan, therefore things just happen and I let them. At the start, I had the Star Wraith, and nothing else; not even Archer. Then he stumbled into the story, and the others followed. Like the stray kitten sitting on my windowsill this morning.
How do you think this book relates to other space operas?
I don’t know.
I once had a comment on Authonomy telling me, ‘…I love Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and that’s the feel you’re aiming for. You’re not in that league just yet…’ This annoyed me a touch, because in no way whatsoever was I, am I, or will I be, trying to emulate either of those (brilliant) writers, or anyone else. Nor do I pay any attention to other works in relation to my own.
So I really have no idea how it relates to other space operas. I simply get on and write what I want to write , and take no notice of anything else.
It also wasn’t my choice to call it a space opera. That, too, came from Authonomy. Several people referred to it as such, and I realised that it probably was. Again, I don’t think in terms of ‘I am going to write a science fantasy space opera targeted at 23¾ year olds’, or whatever. I just write what I want to write, and then deal later with the little problems that throws up. Other than that it was set in space, I had no thoughts of what genre it was. It was obviously sci fi, and that was about it. It later turned out to be science fantasy, and space opera. I’m sure people could categorise it as something else, too.
So in short, without the off-topic rambling, I don’t know.
Why did you use footnotes as opposed to just putting the content into the story?
Ah, well…coming straight out of saying I don’t pay attention to other works… I think I got the idea mostly from Terry Pratchett. I like the idea of sticking in the odd comment or bit of information that simply wouldn’t fit in with the main narrative. None of the footnotes will ever be vital to understanding the story or anything like that, so anyone who doesn’t like footnotes can ignore them. When I published the hardback and went onto the forum for the customary ‘hooray for me, I’ve achieved my dream and published my book!’ post, the first reply was, ‘those footnotes don’t work’. Okay, it was slightly more than that, but he complained about the footnotes being irrelevant. Kind of the point, actually, but it shows that not everyone will like them. So I’m saying now, you don’t need to read them!
What encompasses the “known universe”?
The majority of our galaxy was charted by two species called Horisians and Hŭntrath. These two species share a planet, and when they finally attained space travel, they discovered themselves to be vastly inferior to other species. They gave up their initial thoughts of war and domination, and turned instead to science and exploration. However, they weren’t very good at either.
Because of the haphazard, short-sighted way they explored the galaxy, some areas remain uncharted, while the occasional area outside the galaxy was charted. So, the ‘known universe’ refers to the majority of our galaxy, and a small amount beyond.
Exploration is no longer in the front of any species’ mind, and so the still-unknown parts of the galaxy are only being charted slowly. The job has been taken on by private explorers, who then charge inordinate sums of money to each species for the charts. So although the technology now lends itself much better than ever to finishing off the exploration of the Milky Way, it’s slower than ever.