In most military sci-fi novels, the armed forces are doing what they’ve been trained to do: fight. But in Aftershocks (hardcover, paperback, Kindle) — the first book in a new series he’s calling The Palladium Wars — writer Marko Kloos explores what happens when the fighting ends and everyone now has to deal with the aftermath.
Photo Credit: Robin Kloos
To start, what is Aftershocks about?
Broadly speaking, Aftershocks is about the aftermath of conflict. It’s about what happens after the war, when the guns are silent again and the people who made it through have to pick up the pieces and sweep up the rubble.
The solar system in Aftershocks has six settled planets. One of them, Gretia, started a war with the other five for various reasons, which all boil down to control of resources, the motivation for almost all war. The other five planets, much smaller in population, banded together in an alliance and defeated Gretia after a ruinous four-year war that shattered the system’s economies. Now Gretia is occupied by the alliance, and people are adjusting to a post-war reality. But there are sore losers and various other players in the system who want to rekindle the war for their own purposes, and things are about to heat up again.
Where did you get the idea for Aftershocks and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
Frontlines [his previous military sci-fi series] started with the genre-standard trope of “young man goes off to war.” For Aftershocks, I wanted to invert that trope. My brain supplied “old(er) man comes home from war,” which made me think about my grandfather. He served in World War II on the losing side, and I started to think about what the world would have been like when he returned home after spending so much time fighting for the wrong cause. How did he begin to put his life back together? How did he reconcile his sense of self with the knowledge that he was in the service of the bad guys?
When I started writing the story, it quickly became clear that I needed several points of view. You have the losers, who are smarting from their defeat and the humiliation inflicted on them by the winners. You have the victors, who have to balance their drive for retribution and their sense of fairness and justice. And then you have the irredentists on both sides, the people who want to return to the old ways. So Aftershocks has four point-of-view characters. One’s a former soldier who just got released from a prisoner-of-war camp. One’s an infantry sergeant in the occupation forces in control of the defeated aggressor planet. One’s a young woman who is the unwilling heir to her family’s business empire. And one is a warship captain and war veteran who has to deal with the prospect of a new war on the horizon, one he wants to avoid at all cost because he has seen first-hand what happens when planetary economies dedicate themselves to a system-wide war.
Aftershocks has been called both a sci-fi space opera and a military science fiction story. Is that how you see it or are there other genres at work in this story as well?
It fits both genre descriptions, but the different POVs swing more toward one genre or another. The two military characters are obviously military sci-fi stories, but the civilian character is very much a space opera thread because it has all the trimmings of that genre: intrigue, conspiracies, personal and family drama…you get the idea. And then there’s Aden, the main character, who kind of ties both genres together because he has a foot in both. He’s former military and has to deal with that part of his life and the fallout of the war, but he’s also trying to rebuild his life as a civilian, in a changed system and an unfamiliar way of life. So I suppose you can make a case for either genre depending on whose chapter you’re reading at the time. I found that the space opera aspects enhanced the military action and vice versa.
Prior to writing Aftershocks you wrote six books in the Frontlines series, which were also military sci-fi space opera novels. Aside from being set in a completely different fictional universe, how is Aftershocks fundamentally different from the Frontlines novels?
Frontlines is near-future military science fiction in a familiar solar system setting. It’s Earth a hundred years hence, half a century into the colonization of the galactic neighborhood. It has aliens and FTL travel. Aftershocks is far-future military sci-fi space opera set in a distant solar system. There’s no FTL travel (although information can travel instantly at FTL speeds, solid matter can’t), and there are no aliens.
Other than the world building and setting, they also differ in narrative structure. Frontlines is first-person present tense, told from a single point of view. Aftershocks is third-person past tense, told from multiple points of view. They are very deliberately designed as opposites in terms of structure and world building because I wanted them to be very distinctly different from each other in tone. I also wanted to avoid the pitfalls of first-person POV, which lends the narrative a lot of energy when done well, but limits the narrative because you can’t show what’s not experienced by the solitary point of view character. That limitation isn’t so hard to work around in the first few Frontlines books, but it became a lot more obvious in the later books, where I had to employ increasingly fancy slights-of-hand to get young master Andrew where he needed to be.
So are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Aftershocks but not on the Frontlines novels? Or, really, anything else you’ve written?
When I sketched the initial setting and story line for Aftershocks, the Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey were a bit of an influence, but I took care to avoid obvious similarities.
But more than fiction, I took inspiration from the situation of Germany after World Wars I and II. The broad strokes of the story and the world are basically “Weimar Republic in Space,” but don’t look too hard for historical clues as to what happens next because things in the Gaia system have their own dynamic.
What about movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big influence on Aftershocks?
Not in a major way, although the brain has its way of consolidating input. I liked the gritty and dark mood of Battlestar Galactica, the intrigue and strongly character-driven drama of The Expanse, and the way Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising looked at a major conflict through the eyes of many participants, showing that there are always many viewpoints — and that everyone always sees themselves as the Good Guys. So Aftershocks has a lot of those influences sprinkled in.
Now, you’ve said that Aftershocks is the first book in a series called The Palladium Wars. What are your plans going forward?
I am wary of making predictions as to the length of series — Frontlines was supposed to be a trilogy, and it’s up to six books and counting. But I know what I want to do with Aftershocks and The Palladium Wars, and from the way things are unfolding, it’s probably going to turn out at least as long as Frontlines.
The second book, Ballistic, is set to come out July 21, 2020. Without spoiling anything, how much of that story did you have figured out before you turned in Aftershocks?
I had the broad strokes of the second book in place when I turned in Aftershocks, but things always evolve in the writing. It’s pretty much in the bag at this point, and I am very happy with the way it turned out. The first book set up the dominoes, and the second is starting to kick them over.
That makes me think it might be good to wait until Ballistic comes out and then read it and Aftershocks back-to-back. What do you think?
I obviously would like people to read Aftershocks sooner because that means I get royalties and a contract for more books. But I can also see the logic behind waiting for the second book and then reading them in one go. A main point of the critical reviews of the book so far seems to be that it’s mostly set-up, so people may find it more satisfying to start getting the payoff in the second book right after reading the first one. My wife reads all the books in a series every time a new book comes out just so she can refresh her knowledge of the world and put herself into the mindset again.
Earlier I asked if Aftershocks had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Aftershocks into a movie, show, or game?
Aftershocks just came out, and things in Hollywood take a lot of time, so I haven’t heard of any from my agent about movie or TV show inquiries yet. But I think it would work well as a TV series like The Expanse — the scope of the story is a bit too big for a single movie, and I think that The Expanse and Game Of Thrones have set the template for the “one book, one season” format.
If Aftershocks was going to be adapted into a TV show, who would you suggest they cast in the main roles?
Oof. That’s a hard one. Three out of my four POV characters are middle-aged, and I’d have to lie if I said I didn’t have some good-looking actors in their 40s and 50s as the general appearance template in mind for each of them. But the time to share that info will be if and when I ever sit down with a casting director. I want people to have their own images of Aden, Idina, Dunstan, and Solveig in their heads, and not give them a pre-made face to go with the name. (Always read the book first before watching the show or the movie, kids! That way Strider will look like Strider in your head and not like Viggo Mortensen. Not that there’s anything wrong with Viggo.)
Finally, if someone enjoys Aftershocks, what similar military sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out while waiting for Ballistic to come out?
Absolutely James S.A. Corey’s excellent Expanse series. Also John Scalzi’s Interdependency series, which is up to two novels by now [The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire, with the third, The Last Emperox, due out April 14, 2020].