Interview: author Andy Remic

Andy Remic's latest, War Machine, hits the shelves on 5 November (Bonfire Night in the UK: "An excellent choice, I feel, for those people who hate my work and can happily burn the book," he tells us). We quizzed Remic about his work, in particular about the new book and how he goes about writing exciting space opera.

SFX: What was the inspiration behind the universe of Combat K and the Helix war?
Andy Remic:
"I’d wanted to write a science fiction thriller set against a sprawling, colourful space canvas for many years, where the central protagonists charge from one planet to another on a chaotic quest. The challenge was keeping the story fast-paced when such a massive backdrop was required. I did this by having (a) the history of The Helix War, which had raged for nearly a million years, and which in turn threw up dangerous war zones, old feuds, and a plethora of military characters; and (b) having an array of discrete alien vistas against which our heroes, the Combat K squad, could take on their aggressors and seek out justice."

SFX: Is War Machine set in the same universe as your previous books? What do new readers need to know?
"My first three novels, the SPIRAL trilogy, were set in a near future environment. In some quarters I was criticized for a certain lack of science fiction therein, and the lack of hardcore SF elements were due mainly to the books being written, first and foremost, as thrillers. This new Combat K series of novels, however, are set a million years in the future, and are most definitely of the science fiction ilk. There are alien species, spaceships, chained black holes, advanced weapons of destruction, all swirled together in a mish-mash of chaos in which humanity has found a secure anchor-point… and are out to make as much money as possible."

SFX: Again, no spoilers! But what's the basic premise of your new novel?
"War Machine is a sizzling rollercoaster of a novel with a gratuitous excess of violence, sex, dark humour and exotic aliens all wrapped up in a high-octane cling-film plot concerning an elite military unit illegally reformed who must battle across alien planets to discover justice, truth and revenge. Initially, the story begins with a quest to find an artefact which will reveal to Keenan the person who killed his wife and children."

SFX: Yikes. Well, tell us a little bit about these characters. What do you like about them? How much of you is in them?
"First we have Keenan, a stocky, battered war veteran, a heavy drinker, a gambler, and nurturing a bitter need for revenge. He once had an affair with Pippa, was discovered by his wife, but before he could explain his actions his wife and two little girls were murdered. This leaves him with a lot of guilt and self-loathing. He is a dark and brooding character, who in reality has little sense of humour. Franco, in contrast, is a sexual deviant, certifiably insane, an eternal optimist and a bit of a comedian. A simple man, he lightens the darkness in Keenan’s heart. Third we have Pippa, a very dangerous woman who has sworn to kill Keenan because he broke her heart. She is a massively complex character, a puzzle, a conundrum, with a hatred of scissors nobody understands. In combat, she fights with swords and a Makarov pistol, has no empathy or emotion – except where Keenan is concerned – and we first meet her on the prison-moon of Hardcore where she’s been imprisoned by Quad-Gal authorities on eight counts of murder."

"All my characters contain elements of myself, mixed with people I have met and either loved or loathed. After all, my core mission directive is to entertain – not to bore! That’s the worst crime a writer can make. Anyway, my characters are my children. My babies. Still, I am a tough father and enjoy putting them through all manner of hell and adversity. I believe it is the only way they will grow and mature and become good, positive individuals. Or maybe not. I call it character building."

SFX: Solaris are calling you "the new master of rock-hard science fiction" - what's the appeal of this sort of writing, and how do you deliver?
"I have a very low boredom threshold. And I love science fiction. However, in years past, nothing I read seemed to deliver the sort of high-explosive thriller-driven adventure I was looking for. So I decided to write my own. I suppose one way of looking at it is that if the work of Iain M. Banks (of whom I’m a great fan) is categorized as Space Opera, then my work would be classed as Space Opera – The Punk Remix. So, a sprawling canvas of interesting yet volatile characters, exotic war-torn alien locations held together with fast action, guns, chases, fights and battles, clever plot twists and a liberal pepper sprinkling of black comedy. Dune crossed with Jonny Rotten. Disney merged with The Clash. Doctor Who on heroin. Buffy, when she’s grown up and become a hooker. Hell, Star Wars with rag doll corpses and the Sith being real evil bastards."

SFX: What do you both think is the key to writing a good war-like visceral SF story?
"It’s funny, but I have inherited a mantle of being a military science fiction writer – because many of my characters are from military backgrounds, and my work is usually against a backdrop of war. I find the war angle a brilliant vehicle for action, because you immediately have conflict and a group of characters who have been trained to deal with conflict. However, all my stories include invention, innovation, adventure, romance, comedy, threads which spiral around a hub of violent action used to drive forward a plot which, hopefully, has a reader hanging on the edge of his (or her!) seat. Simply put: I am a science fiction writer. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my books."

"Personally, I think there are two major cores to all good writing. One is character: and I try my hardest to make each character in my work individual, interesting, and with plenty to offer the reader by way of entertainment. This leads me neatly to the second core: entertainment. At the end of the day, I’m writing a novel which has one purpose - to entertain. I want to entertain my readers. A novel should be fun. Enjoyable! And provoke emotions, whether those emotions are humour, fear or excitement. I try my damndest to do all this. Hopefully, I succeed!"

SFX: This will be your fifth book: what sort of feedback have you had from readers of your novels so far? What do they ask you when you meet them at signings and cons?
"I’ve had an incredible amount of brilliant feedback from people who enjoyed the SPIRAL trilogy, and I offer my thanks. I’ve also had a few moans about the swearing – never the over-the-top cartoon violence, mind, just the swearing! In War Machine there is less swearing. Not because I’ve gone soft, but because it didn’t feel the same during writing; the context and setting demanded a slightly different approach."

"At signings I often ask myself, 'Christ, who are these insane people?' and then I realize, they read my books. Ha ha. So they’re on the same wavelength as me, right? Seriously, I get asked the usual questions all writers are asked, 'Where do you get your inspiration? How did you get published? What are you working on at the moment? Are you paying for the beer?'

SFX: Talking of conventions and authors, what big things are going on in SF and fantasy fiction right now?
"In what tiny, miniscule, limited reading time I have, I recently enjoyed The Algebraist by Iain M Banks, and I’m currently reading Helix by Eric Brown, and Deadstock by Jeffrey Thomas – and thoroughly enjoying both. I think Ian Irvine is also a fantasy pioneer, as of course was the recently departed David Gemmell with his superb Troy trilogy. In terms of publishing, in my humble opinion, Solaris Books are trailblazing, which is why I joined them! I think they have great vision, and treat their authors well. Which is good, because I’m one of them. Also, the juggernaut that is Charlie Stross cannot be ignored. He’s on my current TO READ list. I believe I’m on a panel with him at Novacon ."

SFX: We recently ran a writing competition in the mag - any tips for newbie writers on where they should begin?
"I was asked this recently, so shall give the same sort of answer. (1) Labour over every paragraph you write, polish your work to the best of your ability. (2) Present your work to publishers and agents professionally and creatively. (3) Be willing to spend years trying before you break into the publishing industry (although you may get lucky! But don’t bank on it!). (4) Read. A lot. It teaches you good stuff."

"I truly, honestly, truly never thought it would happen to me. I used to plod on, writing every day, for years and years… and my biggest fear was that I’d reach about 57, finally get published, then croak it the next week! Just keep at it. I still remember the feeling of being unpublished and very much sympathise with hard-working writers who are trying their best. Perseverance does pay off because eventually your name is recognised by editors who maybe didn’t like the last thing you submitted, but keep a mental note that you’ve been submitting for a while and therefore have dedication to what is, in effect, an unpaid (and damn hard) job."

SFX: So how long until the next thing you get published?
"I’m working hard on the next novel, which is set in the same 'world' and has many of the same characters – but is a discrete story in its own right. The next book is provisionally entitled BIOHELL – until my nasty, bullying, whip-bearing, violent psychopath of an editor Christian Dunn get his paws on it. Sorry, does that make him sound like a leather-clad dominatrix? Well, that’d be right then."

If you wrote a letter to SFX recently, you might just win a copy of this book, because War Machine is this month's Post Apocalypse prize (SFX 163, page 8). That issue of the magazine is on the shelves this week, and Andy Remic's book is available to buy in stores from 5 November. Check out the official Solaris site here.