While the current crop of conspiracy theories are ridiculous at best and infuriating at worst, some of the oldies are still goodies. Especially when they get co-opted by science fiction writers for their own purposes [insert evil laugh here]. Which brings me to this email interview with writer Ian Douglas (a.k.a. William H. Keith, Jr.) about his new military sci-fi novel Alien Hostiles (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), the sequel to 2020’s Alien Secrets and second book in his Solar Warden trilogy, in which the “Reptilians” of UFO conspiracies are real…and invasive.
I’d like to start with some background. What is the Solar Warden series about, and when and where does it take place?
The Solar Warden series is set in the present day, though it includes extensive scenes set before and during WWII and up through the present, and includes as characters humans from the far future as well as now. The premise, however, is that humans have captured alien spacecraft through the years, reverse-engineered them, and now have a secret space navy with technology that would put Star Trek to shame.
The first book, Alien Secrets, takes place on Earth and at world circling a star called Zeta Reticuli, the second in the Aldebaran star system, and the third will be set on Mars and on Earth.
So what happens in that first book?
In Alien Secrets, the principle character, Commander Mark Hunter, is introduced as a Navy SEAL on a mission in North Korea, spying on a PDRK nuclear test. He and his team witness a huge, saucer-shaped craft also spying on the test, and after extraction learn of the above-top-secret Solar Warden project. After training and indoctrination as a close-combat Joint Space Strike Team called the 1-JSST, they are transferred to the USSS Hillenkoetter, one of several American military starships built with alien technology and assistance. The JSST’s first mission involves a reconnaissance of the double-star system of Zeta Reticuli, purportedly a base occupied by the so-called alien Grays.
And then, for people who’ve read Alien Secrets, and thus don’t have to heed my SPOILER WARNING, what is Alien Hostiles about?
In Alien Hostiles, the Hillenkoetter continues its initial mission, this time to conduct reconnaissance of what is believed to be a Nazi colony set up on a planet in the Aldebaran star system. Faster-than-light travel, it turns out, is by definition time travel. Various human cultures from the far future routinely operate in their past — our recent past and present — and misguided attempts by humans in the 101st century to control Nazi ambitions in the 20th resulted in anachronistic and dangerous advanced technologies employed by the Reich.
So, should we read anything into the fact that your aliens are called Saurians, which sounds a lot like Sauron from The Lord Of The Rings?
The Saurians are time-travelers; the species identified in popular UFO and conspiracy lore as “Reptilians.” In the story, it turns out that a previously unknown group of intelligent space-faring dinosaurs escaped the Chixalube Event 66 million years ago, and have been attempting to subvert modern human culture behind the scenes ever since. So far as they’re concerned, Earth is their home world, and just where do a bunch of sweaty, hairy mammals, of all things, get off thinking it belongs to them? Some future branches of Humankind are trying to stop them, while others have joined them — triggering a timewar encompassing the Galaxy and stretching from the remote past to the far future.
So, no, the Saurians have nothing to do with Sauron. It comes from Sauros, Greek for “lizard.”
When in the process of writing Alien Secrets did you come up with the idea for Alien Hostiles, and what inspired that idea?
The Solar Warden series was developed as a trilogy from the get-go, with a story arc stretching across at least three books: Alien Secrets, Alien Hostiles, and the forthcoming Alien Agendas. The idea arose from speculation about various UFO and conspiracy theories, including statements made by British hacker Gary McKinnon, who broke into NASA and Defense Department computers in 2001 and 2002, where he claimed to have seen files and photos from something called “Solar Warden,” a top-secret space naval force supposedly defending Earth against alien threats.
The series allowed me to speculate about various UFO-related theories and famous sightings, to weave them together, where possible, into a coherent whole, and to put paid to a few that are patently impossible.
It sounds like Alien Hostiles is a military sci-fi story. Is that how you see it?
Yes, it’s military SF, which is my preferred subgenre. The lead character is a Navy SEAL, and he puts together a close-combat strike team drawn from Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Delta Force, U.S. Marines, USAF air controllers, and other elite combat units.
Now, along with Alien Secrets and Alien Hostiles, you have written dozens of novels under almost as many names, including the Carrier series as Keith Douglass and the Cybernarc series as Robert Cain. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Alien Hostiles, but not on anything else you’ve written, and in particular, Alien Secrets?
As mentioned, Alien Hostiles is very much a piece with Alien Secrets, and with Alien Agendas as well. All three were heavily influenced by exhaustive research into UFO records and lore, and are for that reason quite different from my other military sci-fi stories. One character introduced in the first book becomes far more important in Alien Hostiles — a human from some 10,000 years in the future who is helping 21st century humans fight the threat represented by the Saurians, and who was also present in Germany under the Nazi Reich. Her story was influenced by my research into a historical person named Maria Orsic, who was active in various German occult organizations like the Vril Society, beginning in the 1920s, and who mysteriously vanished, according to some sources, in 1945. An ongoing backstory in Alien Hostiles is actually Maria Orsic’s story.
How about non-literary influences; was Alien Hostiles influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not really. During my writing of Alien Secrets, I was concerned about the airing of a TV show called Project Blue Book which, obviously, was covering a lot of the same ground. I was at pains not to duplicate aspects of that show, particular in discussions of various classic UFO cases in history.
And last on the list for my influence questions: prior to writing, you were in the military as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. How, if at all, do you think your military experience influenced Alien Hostiles?
I of course bring my experience both as a serviceman and as a Corpsman to all of my military novels. I can’t help it. After all, living aboard ship and being under military discipline both apply to service in the 25th century as well as in the 20th. I’ve known some Navy SEALs personally, and Navy Corpsmen serve as medics for the USMC, so I guess you could say those were influences. I can’t say there’s any influence specific to Alien Hostiles, though.
Is your time in the Navy why you made Mark Hunter a Navy SEAL as opposed to an Army Ranger or whatever they’re going to call special ops and black ops people in the Space Force?
Beginning back in the 1990s, writing as H. Jay Riker, I published a series of novels — eleven, I think — called SEALs: The Warrior Breed. These were lightly fictionalized retellings of Navy Special Warfare histories beginning with the NCDUs and UDTs of WWII and going up through the SEALs in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. As Keith Douglass, I also wrote three books in a series called SEAL Team Seven. As a result, I know a lot more about the SEAL Teams than I do about the Rangers. However, I do have Army Rangers in the Solar Warden series, as well as Delta, Marines, Special Forces, and others.
As we’ve been discussing, Alien Hostiles is the second book in the Solar Warden trilogy. Do you know yet when the last book, Alien Agendas, will be out?
I don’t believe we have a publication date set in stone yet.
Some writers of trilogies will later expand upon them with sequels, prequels, or side stories. Are you planning to do this as well?
As stated earlier, the Solar Warden series was conceived as a trilogy. Alien Secrets, Alien Hostiles, and Alien Agendas are a self-contained story arc largely defined by the fact that Mark’s girlfriend gets abducted by the infamous Men In Black early on.
However, should Alien Hostiles hit the New York Times best-seller list — as happened with the second entry in my Star Carrier series, Center Of Gravity — the story line is open-ended enough that I could continue adding on to it. Star Carrier eventually ran to nine books. If my readers enjoy Solar Warden, I wouldn’t mind at all extending the series for as long as they let me.
Earlier I asked if Alien Hostiles had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think the Solar Warden series could work as a series of movies or a TV show or a game?
If Apple TV+ has the temerity to turn Asimov’s classic Foundation series into a TV program, they can make anything into a TV program…though doing so is not always a good idea.
If someone were to approach me about an option on Solar Warden, well…sure! Why not? SF writer Barry Longyear, author of the Hugo and Nebula-winning novella Enemy Mine, told me once that when this happens…just take the money and run. Hollywood rarely does justice to sci-fi books.
So if Apple TV+ wanted to do an adaptation of the Solar Warden series, who would you want them to cast as Mark Hunter and the rest of the characters?
To tell the truth, I know almost nothing of modern TV personalities. I don’t follow them, so I have no opinions. I did very much like the cast — and most especially the writing — of the TV series Babylon 5 back in the ’90s, but that was one of the very, very few decent sci-fi shows ever aired. I later got to co-write / ghost-write SF novels for both Peter Jurassik and Bruce Boxleitner, both stars of that program. I suppose I could see Boxleitner as a Navy SEAL. Sorta. Except for the fact that he’s as old as I am, and I’m now way too old now to be active military.
I also used to work extensively in the gaming industry, way back in my misspent youth. In fact, it was my writing novels for the well-known board- and role-playing game franchise BattleTech that let me launch my career as a writer. I suppose I could see Solar Warden as an RPG similar to Traveller or BattleTech, but it would be a stretch.
Finally, if someone enjoys Alien Secrets and Alien Hostiles, which of your other series or stand-alone novels would you suggest they read while waiting for Alien Agendas to come out?
As I said a while back, the Solar Warden series is different in several key respects from my usual military sci-fi offerings, so it’s tough to say, “Well, hey, if you like this, you’ll just love…fill-in-the-blank.”
If you like military stories about really strange aliens, though, I could recommend my two Star Corpsman books, Blood Star and Abyss Deep. One theme running through all of the Solar Warden books is that the ubiquitous “alien Grays” and the so-called “Reptilians” both are far, far too human to be convincing as the products of truly alien ecosystems. As I’ve frequently suggested in my writing, we humans are more closely related to slime molds and oak trees than we are to anything we’re going to encounter Out There, and much of the story line for all three books touches upon this belief. I make a point in each of the Solar Warden books to include interactions with genuinely alien species, with some attention paid to hypothetical alien biochemistries…critters that breath methane and metabolize hydrogen, for instance. The two Star Corpsman books likewise get into alien biochemistry and ecosystems.
If you enjoy stories about large-scale combat missions and service traditions, there’s what I call my Marines-In-Space series, which follows several Marine Corps families from the near-term future through to the remote future. It’s a trilogy of trilogies: Heritage, Legacy, and Inheritance. This also deals with a theme I play with in Solar Warden — that aliens might have tinkered with the human genome in prehistory, and that truly nasty Galactic civilizations might explain the Fermi Paradox.
And finally, if you like stories about the U.S. Navy in space, try Star Carrier, which essentially updates modern carrier aviation and tactics by several centuries in nine books. The series also deals with hyper-advanced technology, alien aliens, and time travel, all of which figure in Solar Warden.