We never know where inspiration may strike, or how. Take Ten Thousand Thunders (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), the far-future sci-fi thriller by Brian Trent which, he explains in the following email interview, came to mind while looking at something decidedly not futuristic.
To begin, what is Ten Thousand Thunders about?
Ten Thousand Thunders is about a future directly threatened by the sins of its past. Many centuries from now, the world’s population has become sharply divided: some people live in protected enclaves where they have access to dazzling new technologies, while other people scrape out an existence in the wastelands and ruins of a fallen age. It’s the age-old division of patricians and plebs, dialed up to 11.
The story begins with a mysterious shuttle explosion, and quickly becomes a world-spanning investigation and a race against the doomsday clock. The book’s opening line sets the tone for what follows: “Fourteen-and-a-half hours after being killed in the shuttle explosion, Gethin Bryce found himself in a newly sculpted body, staring at his hands.”
Where did you get the idea for this story, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
I was in New York’s Metropolitan Museum Of Art, touring the reconstructed Temple Of Dendur. It got me thinking about how history is a story of collapse and resurrection. Rome thought it would last forever. So did each dynasty of China, and the Empire of Alexander, and the Ottomans…and us. Every civilization always thinks it will be the one to escape that cycle, and every civilization is wrong.
Ten Thousand Thunders is about a sharply divided future. The “arkies” live in wildly futuristic arcologies, where technology is god-like by today’s standards. They don’t age and can’t permanently die; any death is reversible for them. The rest of the world ekes out a harsh life in the war-torn wastelands, glimpsing the cities of privileged immortals from afar like an oasis of a fabled utopia — forbidden and inaccessible and to them.
Maybe it’s because the idea occurred to me in a museum, but I decided that this future world would take a lot of its visual and architectural cues from the past. The resulting story moves through futuristic Athens, Japan, Turkey, and more.
Books never turn out exactly as you plan them: you can plant the seed, but they grow and twist and flower in their own way. I started off with the idea for a mystery in this divisive future — and a world that is perched on the edge of another collapse — and the finished novel gave me a world that is thrumming with detail, violence, political factions, scheming opportunists, and a global threat lurking in the shadows. It was a joy to write.
Ten Thousand Thunders is a science fiction story. But is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or a combination of them, that describes the book better?
This is a science fiction mystery that escalates into a thriller. But it’s also a kind of stone soup for the genre elements I love. There’s some apocalyptic flavors when we see the bitter life of the wastelanders who struggle beyond the borders of civilization. There’s a spice of biopunk when we glimpse life inside of civilization and how the people can just casually remake their bodies and create “toys” that act like living things. There’s a helping of post-cyberpunk, and military sci-fi as well. I poured in all the ingredients that I, as a science fiction fan, wanted to see in a book.
I didn’t want to write a future that was “one culture, one theme.” The world has never been that way. Our own era today sure isn’t like that: we have digital and economic divides that are dizzying to contemplate. We download and communicate at the speed of light, play in virtual reality, and send probes to rendezvous with comets…while also murdering each other over religious or political ideologies, have millions of people struggling to meet basic needs, and wallow in our own pollution. And that isn’t even getting into socio-cultural divisions. The promised Internet didn’t unite us, but shattered us into fiercely territorial camps. If you read about our 21st century in, say, the 1950s, it would sound like very far-fetched fantasy.
When does Ten Thousand Thunders take place?
I set the story many centuries from now, in the year 322 of the New Enlightenment. Our own Gregorian calendar has been discarded, just as ancient calendars were discarded, and much for the same reason: the civilized folks of Ten Thousand Thunders want to distinguish themselves from previous eras. The old world messed up, but they’llbe the ones who do better — so they tell themselves.
Why did you decide to set it then as opposed to a lot sooner?
Talk to any sci-fi writer and they’ll tell you that it’s always tricky giving your stories a specific year, because your story is instantly dated when your selection comes and goes. We don’t have the lunar bases 2001 promised us; the film Strange Days was set in a 1999 that never happened; the video game Deus Ex Human Revolution s set in 2027…just a breath away, really. I wanted to sidestep that problem by setting my book in a new era of a new calendar. They’ve recovered from a Dark Age. They know a little bit about ancient countries like “the United States” in the way that the average person knows a few things about Sumer and Babylonia, but they don’t dwell on the past. In a way, they’re committed to forgetting their history and focus only on the future.
Ten Thousand Thunders is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Ten Thousand Thunders but not on your previous books?
This is my first science-fiction novel — I’ve written such historical fantasy novels as Rahotep and its sequel The God And The Gate, and straight-up historical novels — so there’s been a number of genre masters that were very influential. William Gibson is best-known for his cyberpunk, but his ability to make the unfamiliar familiar — describing unusual technologies on the fly — had a big impact on my own writing. He never has his people “explain” their world, any more than you would explain to a friend that you’re using “a smartphone, which was a wireless device that can take pictures and access the Internet and act as a flashlight and alarm clock.”
Other books that impacted me are those that detail their own “future histories”: [Ray Bradbury’s] The Martian Chronicles, [Olaf Stapledon’s] Last And First Men, and Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series. Rahotep is fantasy with shapeshifters and magical entities; Ten Thousand Thunders is science fiction through and through, and the technologies are based on the plausible. There’s no faster-than-light tech in my book, for instance. No instant messaging with people on the other side of the solar system.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on Ten Thousand Thunders?
I grew up on classic sci-fi films, but in a lot of ways I wrote Ten Thousand Thunders as an opposition to what those movies depict. Even today, we usually see “the future” as a monochromatic world of antiseptic cleanliness, as if it’s set in a massive institution. Otherwise we see gritty cyberpunk worlds as exemplified in Blade Runner. As a contrast to those dualities, Ten Thousand Thundersis a future that built itself on ancient designs. There’s colonnaded streets running through futuristic Athens, with rolling green hills contained inside massive skyways. There’s pyramids floating on the Sea Of Japan, built of chrome and steel. There’s galleons sailing the ocean with photovoltaic sails. There are ziggurats with helipads on their colossal rooftops and forests growing by artificial light in their interiors.
I haven’t seen anything quite like that in movies. But I do remember an old game — I’m going to take you way back now to 1986 — for the original NES. It was called Legendary Wings, and its aesthetic was a fusion of mythological elements with futuristic elements. That impacted my own visualizations as I grew up, because I realized that everything in sci-fi doesn’t have to look like the inside of the Death Star, for instance. The Legacy Of Kain series was also influential to me in its jaw-dropping scope of fictional history, ranging across thousands of years and building on the bones of earlier ages.
I’ll mention The Fifth Element for its aesthetic, too; Luc Besson has that uniquely French appreciation for color, while also imbuing that film’s vision with the lived-in look that Star Wars helped pioneer. You want your worlds to feel like living, breathing realties. You want to be able to smellthose worlds.
Now, in the press info for Ten Thousand Thunders, it says it’s, “…the beginning of an exciting new science fiction universe.” Can we take it to mean that it is the first book in a new series, or is it a stand-alone novel?
I’ve been publishing fiction set in this universe for several years now in magazines like Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. Ten Thousand Thunders is the origin point. It’s the beginning of this literary universe. The events that are set into motion here will continue in subsequent books and short fiction.
Having said that, I do feel strongly that any book — whether a sequel or prequel or interquel or parallel story — should alwaysbe able to stand on its own. A reader can enjoy Ten Thousand Thunders as a standalone tale, or the books that are to come. But reading them together will show where the connections are.
So what can you tell us about this series?
The Ten Thousand Thunders series is a chronicle of humanity’s ascent to the stars. This first book is set on Earth, but people are already striving to move out into the universe, and they have colonized other worlds in the solar system. Ten Thousand Thunders sets events into motion that will lead far beyond the birthworld into a much larger, more dangerous playing field. Sometimes it’s a small connection; for example, a smuggler in this book makes reference to selling weapons to a group of radicals on Mars known as the Partisans. The Partisans play a major role in the next book, and in some of my short fiction that readers may be familiar with; my story “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh And Stone,” in The Year’s Best Military And Adventure SF 2017, features them as a major villain. Again, you don’t have to be familiar with each story, because I want them to be capable of standing on their own merits.
I can’t say too much about the next book in the Ten Thousand Thunders series right now, except that it will be set a few decades later and will deal with the aftermath — politically and technologically — of what happens in Book One. There’s no set number of books. I’ll write them as long as people want them. I’ve written stories in this universe that are set ten thousand years later.
We talked earlier about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced Ten Thousand Thunders. But has there been any interest in adapting Ten Thousand Thunders into a movie, show, or game?
I can see Ten Thousand Thunders forming the basis for a miniseries, and I’d be delighted with that. There’s a lot of detail in the book, with other stories glimmering at the edges. A cinematic exploration of that universe would be wonderful. As to specific studio interest in the project, I’m not able to comment more specifically on that at the moment.
As a gamer myself, I’d be on board with a video game adaptation. The settings are detailed and varied. There’s a futuristic Athens, a towering Shimizu pyramid in Japan, the monster-infested wastelands of the Hudson Valley in New York…certainly a diverse series of environments to explore and interact with. And each “faction” in the world, and beyond it, is very unique, with their own stylized technologies and weapons and fashions. That lends itself to visual representation, whether silver screen or PC/console.
If Ten Thousand Thunders was being adapted into a miniseries, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I hadn’t really thought of it until now, but my main character, Gethin Bryce, could be played by Christian Bale [The Dark Knight]. Dark-haired, edgy, confrontational. Gethin is a character I enjoyed writing because he’s caught between two worlds. He grew up in the “stalks” that separate Upper London from Lower London, so he doesn’t really belong to either world. Outsider characters appeal to me. I like the Byronic qualities. The flip-off to established authority. Bale could certainly pull that off.
The other major character is Celeste Segarra, and it’s a gritty role: she’s a hard-bitten combatant. I can see Michelle Rodriguez [The Fate Of The Furious] or maybe Zoe Saldana [Guardians Of The Galaxy] in the role. Strong, bitter, fearless, determined. Someone who can exude steely intensityandeven fanatical zeal. Celeste isn’t just the “tough girl” soldier type; she’s a true believer in a revolutionary cause. She’s not the world-weary Viggo Mortensen in The Road; she’s hungry for outright war with the “civilized” world. Her glare should melt steel.
And since you’re a gamer, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I’d be interested in an Eidos Montreal or BioWare being involved and I think both are looking for new IPs. Both companies have a proven track record of establishing immersive worlds that feel alive and vivid, with lots of characters adding dimension to the proceedings. I’d consider Bethesda, but I think they have their hands full at the moment.
Finally, if someone enjoysTen Thousand Thunders, what novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
Marina J. Lostetter’s Noumenon is a great hard science fiction read with a structure of unfolding history, and Ken Liu’s The Grace Of Kings is a masterwork of imagination and a great antidote to the unrelenting “medieval Europe” theme in the fantasy genre. For anyone who hasn’t read William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, those are required reading for any fan of the genre.