With Artifact Space (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Miles Cameron is kicking off a sci-fi space opera series called Arcana Imperii. But while, in the following email interview, he cites other sci-fi space opera stories as influences, this writer of historical fiction confesses he couldn’t help but get historical in these books as well.
Photo Credit: © Lawrie Photography
To start, what is Artifact Space about, and when and where does it take place?
Artifact Space takes place in a not so distant future; about seven hundred years from now. But the progress hasn’t been linear; Earth has experienced environmental collapse that triggered a sudden rush to the stars, and the technology of the book is only somewhat higher than the technology of today; a great deal was lost in the so-called Age Of Chaos, and some sciences, like genetics, have lost ground.
Artifact Space takes place throughout our spiral arm of the galaxy. I had some fun and used mostly real stars that actually exist as the features of my book. But looked at another way, the cultures of the planets that humans have colonized are largely the creations of the places from which they’ve come, and they’ve carried their artifacts into space with them; the book opens in the Piazzo San Marco of Venice, except that it’s on a giant man-made orbital far away from Earth, and the Blue Mosque of Istanbul is on another planet, and so on.
But…what’s it about? That’s a whole different thing. It’s about Marca Nbaro, an orphan and a survivor. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to be an officer in the Merchant Service that doubles as a military “navy.” Both her parents served there, and died doing it. And she has enemies, or perhaps her parents left some enemies behind; regardless, no one is making her life easy. And despite that, the book is about her, and her rise, which at times is quite remarkable. She’s a remarkable woman. And although it doesn’t really come out in this book, she’s being helped behind the scenes, for reasons…
Where did you get the idea for Artifact Space, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
I had been reading about the Great Galleys of Venice and their long range trading missions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; I write historical novels too, right? Anyway, I was reading about them, and then just before Covid hit, I went out with my family to see Little Women. It was a favorite book of mine as a kid. I grew up in a big farmhouse with a lot of old books. Anyway, I loved Florence Pugh in her role as Amy, and she has this scene where she explains to her friend that she’s not a good enough artist to make it, so her only life choice is to be a rich man’s wife and make babies. That’s a paraphrase, but in that moment, I sort of imagined what it would be like if Amy was a space officer. I’m not kidding. And from that, maybe because one of the best officers I served with in the Navy was a woman who looked more than a little like Ms. Pugh…it literally all came together before I walked out of the theater. By the time we went home, I had to write it. I had it all in my head, begging to come out. It was like taking dictation.
In Artifact Space, Marca lives on a massive spaceship called a Greatship. Why did you decide to set Artifact Space on a huge space ship as opposed to a space station or a planet?
Yes, most of the action of the novel is on the Greatship Athens. All of the Greatships were built for the original exile from Earth, which occurred almost three hundred years before the action of the novel. They’re huge; ten kilometers long.
As to why, that’s tricky. The real why is that I was a U.S. Navy carrier aviator, although a backseater; I flew in S-3 Vikings off the USS Eisenhauer for three years. But let me throw some more stuff at the wall. I love sci fi, and I adored The Expanse, for instance, but I missed, even in that great show and more so in Star Wars or whatever, I missed the orderly language of modern aviation and spaceflight. If they have spaceships, they’re going to need Space Traffic Controllers talking to pilots and looking for safety zones and floating space junk and old orbital paths… I wanted to portray these huge old ships that were humanities lifeblood, the way the Venetian Great Galleys were to life in the Medieval Mediterranean. And like the Venetian ships, I wanted them to be both huge merchants and deadly warships. And finally, I wanted them to be like Aircraft Carriers because…well, because the sci-fi author I most admire, Alistair Reynolds, told me years ago at a con that it was a great idea.
It sounds like Artifact Space is a sci-fi space opera novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
You nailed it. I loved space opera above all things as a teenager; I loved Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry to a ridiculous level, and Pournelle and Niven’s Mote In God’s Eye was maybe the best thing I’d ever read… So the whole thing, end to end, is space opera with a bunch of really (I hope really) subtle salutes to the greats of the present and the past; C.J. Cherryh, Heinlein, etc.
While Artifact Space is your first sci-fi novel, you’ve written dozens of historical fiction, fantasy, and thriller novels. Are there any writers who you think had a big influence on Artifact Space, but not anything else you’ve written? Because massive space ships always makes me think of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels…
Iain M. Banks was my favorite sci-fi writer until he died, and I love his Culture novels, both as space opera and as social commentary. He was a genius. But yeah, there’s some Star Trek in there; I wanted the flights to be long, to give the sense of big ocean voyages of the past. And there’s some clear homages to, as I mentioned, C.J. Cherryh’s Merchanter’s Luck and Downbelow Station; the whole idea of acceleration and deceleration causing delay and red and blue shift on data transmission I got from her. The wave front of info in a time dilation scenario and what that would do to a space fight…she was brilliant. The Patrician but Socialist-ish culture of the DHC and it’s very Venetian but yet somehow egalitarian government is a homage to Banks.
How about non-literary influences; was Artifact Space influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Heavily influenced by a game, yes. I’m a big TTRPG player and I love wargames with miniatures. There’ a European game called Infinity with the best sci-fi minis on the market, and I run a role-playing game set in their universe. I actually learned a good deal about how my tech level would work from Infinity. And an older game, called Traveller.
Now, Artifact Space is the first book in a series you’re calling Arcana Imperii. What can you tell us about this series?
I envision three closely linked books; in fact, I’ve written more than half of book two, Deep Black, and it starts a few hours after Artifact Space ends, so very closely linked. I don’t want to spoiler, so I’ll just say that if Marca is on an epic voyage, Artifact Space is “going outbound,” Deep Black is “coming home,” and Book Three is the resolution of the meta plot, which I won’t give away except to say, humanity has believed for two hundred years that they and one other species are all that inhabits the spiral arm, and then, in one voyage, humanity learns that there are four or five or ten other alien races, and they aren’t friends.
But I also have about fifty ideas for spin offs and one-offs set in the same universe. I’d love to write Nbaro and Dorcas for years to come.
Earlier I asked if Artifact Space had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to turn things around, do you think Artifact Space could be made into a movie, show, or game?
I’m a veteran writer and I wrote Artifact Space to be an episodic show like The Expanse. I’d love to see someone pick it up. But I see it as a show and a game.
If someone wanted to make it into a show, who would you want them to cast as Marca and the other main characters?
Adelayo Adedayo [Some Girls] looks the part, but I have no idea if she wants to do an action hero, and anyway, Marca Nbaro is seventeen years old at the beginning; I think we’ll have someone brand new. I want a young Benedict Cumberbatch [Doctor Strange] for Dorcas, but that’s a hard sell because he plays brilliance and depth so well, and he can do action too.
And if someone wanted to make it into a game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
Oh, I want it as a massive online game like Eve, but built by Ubisoft, mostly because I know great writers there…and their games are excellent.
So, is there anything else that people interested in Artifact Space should know about it?
Yeah, it’s about everyone’s future, not a white male future. Some people hate that. I have a one star review accusing me of some terrible things because one of the most advanced systems is entirely settled by Africans. Apparently my one star reviewer doesn’t think Africa will ever have a space program. He should get out more often.
Finally, if someone enjoys Artifact Space, which of your other novels would you suggest they read while waiting for Deep Black to come out?
I mean, to be fair, I have forty four novels out there, so they can probably read nothing but my books from now until publication of Deep Black. But I’d start with my new fantasy series, Age Of Bronze, which starts with Against All Gods. I hear it’s pretty good.