Greetings readers, bloggers, geeks, and authors and welcome to The ToiBox of Words. I’m your host Toi Thomas, author of Eternal Curse, and today I’m sharing a special interview with author, Henry V. O’Neil, about his fiction book entitled, Dire Steps: The Sim War (Book Three). Enjoy!
Where did the idea for Dire Steps: The Sim War come from?
The first book in the series, Glory Main, is a gritty tale of survival on a barren planet that introduces Jander and the war against the Sims. The Sims (as in “similar”) closely resemble humans, but certain differences suggest that an unidentified entity is creating them. Jander’s father and sister both enter the series in the second book, Orphan Brigade, in which the reader learns that the war isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Dire Steps continues this theme, revealing the double-dealing, profiteering, and outright betrayal that is becoming endemic in the alliance of human planets.
How did the title of this book come about?
In the future depicted in my Sim War series, humanity relies on a faster-than-light method of travel called the Step. This is Book Three, and so the series has already introduced the main character, Lieutenant Jander Mortas of the Human Defense Force; his father Olech, a high-ranking politician who’s basically running the war against the humanoid Sims; and Jander’s brilliant but impulsive sister Ayliss. As all three members of the Mortas family go in harm’s way in this book, the title of Dire Steps suggested itself.
What genre is this book and why did you choose to make it so?
The series is military science fiction, which I’ve always enjoyed. Some of my favorites are Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, John Steakley’s Armor, and Joe Haldeman’s Forever War. I graduated from West Point in 1985 and served as an infantry officer and paratrooper for nine years after that, so telling a stirring story with a military setting has always been appealing. I especially enjoy depicting the rough humor of the soldiers and the confusion of operations both large and small.
What would you say is the overall message or the theme of this book?
Gregory Peck’s character summed up the message of Dire Steps pretty well in the World War Two movie The Guns of Navarone: “The only way to win a war is to be just as nasty as the enemy. The one thing that worries me is we’re liable to wake up one morning, and find we’re even nastier than they are.”
Tell me about the experience of writing this book; how long did it take.
I’m lucky, in that having the first two books of the series written pretty much pointed the way on the third one. Of course new ideas presented themselves while I was writing Dire Steps, so I paid attention to the good ones and modified the story accordingly. As an example, there are two big battles toward the end of Dire Steps, and I suddenly realized that they were going to be awfully similar if I didn’t change one of them. There’s no shortage of bad guys in this series, so that was pretty easy to do.
Tell me about the main storyline within this book.
Leadership is one of the main themes of the series, and in Dire Steps we get to see three different styles. Jander has grown into an experienced combat veteran, but he’s still learning. His father has been running the war for a long time, but his leadership approach is revealed in full when he gets a chance to alter the war in humanity’s favor that poses a great risk to him personally. Finally, Ayliss is put in charge of a new colony in the war zone and has to learn the job quickly.
Who is the protagonist of this story?
Lieutenant Jander Mortas is the main character of the whole series, but his father and sister both play major roles in Dire Steps. Jander volunteered to go to the war even though his family connections could have kept him out of it. His sister Ayliss, initially convinced the war was nothing but a tool for their father, has found a disturbing attraction in the war zone. Their father Olech, sitting at the top of the human alliance against the Sims, has made so many compromises that he’s beginning to suspect he’s not the principled leader he used to be.
Who is the antagonist of this story?
The humanoid Sims are fighting the humans for control of habitable planets across the galaxy, so they are a constant threat. Jander’s unit encounters a gang of Sim holdouts on the jungle planet Verdur, and discover that the Sims are much more creative than expected. In the meantime, both his father and his sister are coming to grips with the corruption and profiteering at every level of the human alliance.
What is the major conflict in this story?
Jander’s unit, pursuing the Sim holdouts on Verdur, grow steadily more suspicious of the corporate-funded base that has become the focus of the Sims’ raids. Jander’s father Olech finally confirms that many of his top allies have been using the war to line their pockets, and decides that drastic measure are needed to correct that situation. Finally, Ayliss has to juggle the needs (and demands) of the discharged veterans who populate the colony she’s supervising, while also dealing with a powerful mining interest that preceded the colony’s creation.
Where and when is this story taking place?
Jander and his troops are operating on Verdur, and the tight confines of the jungle planet create their own mood of suspense and danger. His father makes an unannounced trip to Celestia, the home of his most powerful ally, where wealth and privilege have created a society based on suffering. Finally, Ayliss is supervising a colony on Quad Seven—a planet deep in the war zone, recently taken from the Sims, that has little to recommend it beyond its rich supplies of energy ore.
Who is your favorite character in this book?
There are several great new characters introduced in Dire Steps, but if I had to pick the one I like best it would be the female veteran named Tin. On Quad Seven Ayliss falls in with a group of elite fighters from the Human Defense Force’s all-female Banshee units. Tin is one of the Banshees, and she has an irreverence to her that was very fun to write.
Are there elements of your personality or life experiences in this book?
I work hard to keep my fiction work just that—fiction. My years at West Point and the US Army infantry are a big help in writing military sci-fi, but I never went to combat, so there’s a point where every one of these stories is completely made up. Having said that, the hunger and blisters in Glory Main come from my time in the Army’s grueling Ranger course. The unit in Orphan Brigade is loosely modeled on the battalion I served in with the Tenth Mountain Division. Sadly, the corruption in the series is pulled from history books and headlines.
Let’s say your book is being turned into a feature-length film; quick- cast the main two characters and pick a theme song or score.
Jander is a tough one because he’s approximately 22 when the series starts. It would be nice to cast an unknown in that role, but I was very impressed by Nick Robinson’s one-episode appearance on Boardwalk Empire. He played a very young bootlegger, and I think he’d be a fine Jander.
Ayliss is a complicated individual, and I would love to see someone like Karen Gillan play her. And Michael Biehn would be a tremendous Olech Mortas.
The theme music should be a blend of the scores from Legends of the Fall and Gladiator.
Do you have any special plans for this book in the near or far future?
I’m very pleased to say that Harper Voyager is continuing the series, so one of the best things about Dire Steps is that the story doesn’t end there.
Oh, and didn’t you mention movies a little earlier?
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