10-28-2014: MilSciFi.com interviews Nancy Fulda, contributor to the
anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse, author of the short story
Castles in the Sky.
MilSciFi: Welcome. Please tell us a little
something about your story.
Fulda: Castles in the Sky took its name from one of the intro
images on the Dark Expanse web site. The Dark Expanse artwork is fantastic –
evocative and stunningly rendered, with enough realism to feel grounded and
enough artistic license to feel exciting. One of the images on the main page
shows an *orbital
defense base, comparing it in function to the defensive
capabilities of a medieval castle.
I was intrigued. I decided to write a
story about an orbital fortress, a place of refuge for the conflict-battered
survivors of a doomed planet. The characters of Gemina, Mace, and the
mysterious Chitter named Slicer all emerged from that starting point.
MilSciFi: Since this was a shared universe project,
just how much freedom did you have in your story concept and/or character
Fulda: Tons. The story possibilities within a shared universe are
endless, and I'm fascinated by the individual stories of the Dark Expanse
MilSciFi: Does science and technology play an
important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary
to the story telling and characterization?
Fulda: I don't believe that technology and characterization
necessarily exist in isolation. An intriguing science fiction story doesn't
emerge solely from the character or solely from the technology, but from the
interactions between the two.
in the Sky, Gemina is trapped on a world that's doomed to extinction. That
situation was created by technology, and it has a profound effect on her
character. Her subsequent decisions shape the kinds of technology encountered
in the story, and the degree to which that technology takes center stage.
MilSciFi: Do you have plans to expand upon, or
write other works based on this short story?
Fulda: Possibly. Gemina actually turns up in one of the other
stories in the Dark Expanse anthology, although I'm not sure how many readers
noticed that. She's far from her planet of origin and acting under a different
name, but if you look closely you can see how her early experiences shaped her
personality. There's a lot of complexity to unearth there, although I'm not
sure whether I'll have the opportunity to go digging anytime soon.
MilSciFi: Most authors we encounter write
novellas/novels, do you write short stories, and if so do you find it a challenge?
Fulda: I've always written short stories. They come naturally to
me, as a compact way to explore a focused event in space and time. I enjoy the
format and especially enjoy the chance to hop from topic to topic. In many
ways, short fiction is easier for me to write than novels or novellas. It's
easier to keep the entire arc of the story in your head; easier to see the
patterns that shape the characters and make their stories resonate.
MilSciFi: Since time is of the essence for getting
a read up to speed in a short story, do you have a strategy, or preferred
method for doing this?
Fulda: The reader needs to get settled in the mind and heart of the
character as quickly as possible. Stunning action sequences, complex
world-building, and detailed backstory are all secondary, because none of that
stuff means anything until the reader
has a character to empathize with.
That's not to say you can't start with an
action sequence. Pyrotechnics are awesome, and who doesn't enjoy watching space
ships explode? But if you become so enthralled with what's happening outside,
in the physical world, that you neglect the inner landscape of the characters,
then you're going to lose the attention of the typical reader.
MilSciFi: What advice would you give the aspiring military
science fiction writer?
Fulda: Leverage the knowledge you've attained in other aspects of
life. If you have a background in science and academia, don't be afraid to let
that influence your writing. If you are an avid Starcraft gamer, go ahead and deal
with concepts related to strategy, troop allocation, and resource management.
Real life combat experience? Bring it on! No real life combat experience? Don't
panic – you have other skills that can help bring your fiction to life.
MilSciFi: Do you think there is any advantage to
having your work in an anthology?
Fulda: Oh, absolutely. One of the most difficult aspects of placing
short fiction involves helping it find its way to the right readers. Readers
always come to a story with a set of expectations, and if those expectations
aren't fulfilled they're going to dislike the story, regardless of how
well-constructed it is.
Anthologies – and especially themed
anthologies – create a context for the story. When a reader picks up the Dark
Expanse anthology, I know she's interested in action, technology, armed
conflict, cool aliens, and the effects all of those have on individual
characters. Those are expectations I can fulfill, and if the story's being
written on commission, I can do so without having to stop to establish the
story's genre, cultural context, and fundamental assumptions at the outset.
With the Dark Expanse anthology, for
example, I didn't have to weigh the story down with convoluted explanations of
the Zyxlar or of the other sentient races in the game universe. I could assume
that readers either already knew that stuff, or would be able to pick it up
over the course of the anthology. I didn't have to answer all the questions
within my allotment of 4500 words, and I think the narrative reads more
powerfully because of it.
MilSciFi: Who is your single-most influential
author in science fiction, and what impact did that have on our own work?
Fulda: Lois McMaster Bujold. I discovered the Vorkosigan series when
I was in my early twenties, and I just gobbled it up. I loved the way she kept
the stories exciting while still taking time to explore what was happening at a
human and interpersonal level. Also, it was just a joy to watch Miles keep
screwing everything up.
MilSciFi: Is military science fiction the only
thing you write, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?
Fulda: I write everything from military fantasy to epic space
opera, but readers at this web site would probably be most interested in my *hard
science fiction. I have an academic background in computer science and
artificial intelligence, and it shows.
MilSciFi: Do you have any other projects in the
Fulda: I'm finishing revisions on a novel involving giant lizards,
rampant windstorms, and a malevolent group of technocrats willing to let
humanity die in order to save their own skins. Anyone who wants to be notified
once it's finished can sign up for the low-volume mailing list at my web site.
MilSciFi: We thank you for your time.