Exclusive Interview: “August Kitko And The Mechas From Space” Author Alex White

 

Much like the Wu-Tang Clan, giant robots ain’t nothing to fuck with. But that’s not stopping author Alex White, whose new sci-fi space opera novel August Kitko And The Mechas From Space (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) — the start of the Starmetal Symphony trilogy — features (as White explains in the following email interview), “mecha fights, big space battles, and smooching.”

Alex White August Kitko And The Mechas From Space The Starmetal Symphony trilogy

Photo Credit: Renee White

 

Let’s start with a plot summary: What is August Kitko And The Mechas From Space about, and when and where does it take place?

Everything is coming to an end in the next five minutes. Earth is doomed, all the final weapons have been deployed, and nothing will stop the army of killer automata descending upon us from the stars to devour our minds. That’s when one of the Vanguards, the giant mechas who lead the swarms, decides to change sides and partner up with a human on the scene. That poor fellow is August Kitko, and along with nonbinary glam rocker Ardent Violet, they go on a wild ride across the galaxy with mecha fights, big space battles, and smooching.

Where did you get the idea for August Kitko And The Mechas From Space? What inspired it?

The publisher was really into the idea of my robot friends, like the ones from my series The Salvagers. They really appreciated the dynamic, but I always worry about being friends with something that’s compelled to serve you. I heard Annalee Newitz voice similar concerns about consent and service, and I said as much on a pitch call. That’s when Connor Goldsmith, my agent said, “Well…giant robots don’t have to listen to anyone,” and I was like, “Say no more! I’m on it.” I was a big fan of shows like Escaflowne and Evangelion, and I appreciated those somewhat mystical mechas. I also enjoy the stranger mech designs, so I wanted something that felt human, yet alien.

Now, the press materials say August is a jazz pianist. Why a pianist as opposed to a drummer or sax player, and while we’re on the subject, why a jazz pianist as opposed to a classical pianist or the piano player in a country group?

When I look at John Coltrane’s music theory graphs and maps (I’m aware he’s a sax player), I think, “This is beauty in complexity.” I love the way jazz employs randomness within patterns, and the way that it has rules while breaking them. I think that’s something a synthetic mind would enjoy, but as I note in the book, the synthetics enjoy most genres. Gus is a jazz pianist because I had some possibility of learning to play it, as opposed to the saxophone, which requires an ungodly amount of talent to do anything but honk.

So then what jazz piano player’s albums should I listen to while reading August Kitko And The Mechas From Space? Keith Jarrett’s? Thelonious Monk’s? Red Garland’s?

I didn’t stick to piano, I’m afraid. I love [Miles Davis’] Kind Of Blue [which features John Coltrane and “Cannonball” Adderly on sax] and [John Coltrane’s] Giant Steps, which are both masterworks of the genre. I also enjoy some of the more esoteric stuff like Too Many Zoos or Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet. The Miami-based Nu Disco Ensemble has some incredible giant robot battle music.

For my money, though, my favorite piano album for this book was Hiromi’s Alive. She has to be one of the best pianists working, hands down.

On a non-music note (sorry), it sounds like August Kitko And The Mechas From Space is a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it?

It’s 100% space opera down to its core. If you want a bunch of people galivanting around the galaxy having wild adventures, stealing starships, and getting into mecha fights, you’ve come to the right place.

It also sounds like it’s lighthearted….

It’s not quite jokey like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy for sure. I would say there are a decent number of laugh lines, and some that get surprisingly real. My characters use humor to deflect a number of things, from mild discomfort to crushing existential dread. Also, I’m not sure “lighthearted” is the word I’d use. More like optimistically nihilistic.

So, who do you see as being the biggest influences on the “optimistically nihilistic” aspects of August Kitko And The Mechas From Space?

Adventure stories like Cowboy Bebop and Star Wars are often chock full of jokes, with a laugh line coming every 5-10 minutes. Combine that with a traditional romcom with a lot of situational humor, because being part of an adventure is awkward AF.

August Kitko And The Mechas From Space is far from your first novel. Are there any other writers who you think had a big influence on it, but not on any of your other novels? Because I’m kind of getting the same kind of vibes I got when I read Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera.

Haven’t read it, I’m afraid. I’ve always wanted to write a music book, but I felt like I “got permission” from Nicholas Eames’ Kings Of The Wyld. While it wasn’t about music, per se, it was so heavily influenced by rock and roll that the spirit of song is unavoidable. Since he was with my publisher, I thought they’d be amenable to my weird music pitch. Of course, I took things in a totally different direction.

How about non-literary influences; was August Kitko And The Mechas From Space influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned a couple anime already, and Star Wars.

It absolutely bears the hallmarks of Evangelion and The Vision Of Escaflowne in the mecha interfaces. These “pilots” have a spiritual connection to their mechas that’s nonstandard. It’s not about joysticks and switches; these machines are alive to some extent. All of the Vanguards in the story are aesthetically different in a fighting game sort of way, so I think you have to lump those in, as well.

Now, I thought I saw something online where you said August Kitko And The Mechas From Space is the first book in a trilogy…

It is. Three books; three very different tales with the same characters.

Do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?

I don’t. I’m writing the second book right now, and none of the titles are approved.

Some people, when they hear that August Kitko And The Mechas From Space is the first book of a trilogy, will decide to wait until the other two books come out before reading any of them, while still others will decide to binge the series the same way I, I mean they binged your Salvagers trilogy. But is there any reason why you think we shouldn’t wait to read August Kitko?

Each story in the Starmetal Symphony is a self-contained adventure that speaks to a greater arc. If you read them as they come out, you’ll get the chance to sit with the characters and really understand them. I do a lot to catch readers up at the start of my books, and I promise to take care of you if you’re an early adopter.

Earlier I asked if August Kitko And The Mechas From Space had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to turn things around, do you think August Kitko And The Mechas From Space could work as a movie, show, or game?

Everything I write, I try to make as cinematic as possible because I love movies so much. I can absolutely see what the characters are doing, and I try to keep it pacy like an action film.

However, if you wanted a deeper experience, I think it’d make a cool visual novel in the style of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Given that a romance is at the center of the plot, that seems like a good format.

But if someone wanted to make an August Kitko And The Mechas From Space movie, who would you want them to cast as August, Ardent, and the other main characters?

That’s a tough question. I never start out imagining actors. I always think of my characters from whole cloth, and I can see their faces perfectly. I like Dan Levy [Schitt’s Creek] for Gus, because he’s cute and sweet, with an incredible range. He can play a morose sense of humor and has the ability to be a quiet force on the scene. For Ardent, I love Mason Alexander Park [The Sandman] or Asia Kate Dillon [Billions]. I think both of them would be powerful scene stealers, and that’s Ardent’s whole job.

So, is there anything else that people interested in August Kitko And The Mechas From Space should know about it?

I’m here to take you through the ringer. Just because the book is fun and funny at times, doesn’t mean we’re going to avoid the sharp and painful bits. My books are there to hit the whole spectrum of emotions, and I want to leave you gasping.

Also, I love to tangle with the big questions of life, so I hope I worked a few of those into the story as well.

Alex White August Kitko And The Mechas From Space The Starmetal Symphony trilogy

Finally, if someone enjoys August Kitko And The Mechas From Space, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?

You should definitely read The Salvagers trilogy [A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe, A Bad Deal For The Whole Galaxy, and The Worst Of All Possible Worlds]. It has a lot of the same feel, albeit without the giant mecha. It’s a series with a ton of heart and action, both key ingredients in August Kitko.

 

 

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