With his comedic sci-fi novel Battle Beyond The Dolestars (paperback, Kindle), writer Chris McCrudden is picking up where last year’s Battlestar Suburbia left off. In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced this direct sequel, including a certain low budget space flick.
To start, what is Battle Beyond The Dolestars about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book in this series, Battlestar Suburbia?
Battle Beyond The Dolestars is a direct sequel to Battlestar Suburbia. It opens a year on from the events of the first book, when the Battlestar Suburbia broke away from Earth’s orbit during a human rebellion against the robots. The humans, led by the backstreet hairdresser turned freedom fighter Janice, have been hiding out in the asteroid belt and are just about to launch an attack against The Martian Gap Services, a robot military base.
Down on Earth, the sentient breadmaker Pamasonic Teffal is trying to stop the machine-robot war the only way she can: politely. This is until a distress call from Janice tells Pam it’s time to get Pam Van Damme, her motorcycle alter-ego with the va-va vroom out the carport. Pam sets off to save the rebellion and Janice’s daughter Kelly, whose body the robot Prime Minister Sonny Erikzon is still wearing like it’s a silicone slipcase.
Meanwhile, somewhere between the Earth and the asteroid belt, The Starship Deathtrap is on a mission to crush the rebellion. Whether it succeeds or fails will be down to the luck and moral judgement of Fuji Istu, an office printer recently conscripted into the robot army.
As direct sequels the books are very closely connected. I wanted to use this book to finish the storylines I’d set up in Battlestar Suburbia but hadn’t quite finished. Lots of the same characters feature but with some new additions, such as Fuji the printer. That said, it’s still intended to stand alone as a book, so someone who didn’t read Battlestar Suburbia could still pick it up and enjoy it.
When in the process of writing Battlestar Suburbia did you come up with the idea for Battle Beyond The Dolestars?
I didn’t! I wrote Battlestar Suburbia over the space of five years between 2010 and 2015 and never thought it would get published, let alone get a sequel. I came up with the idea for Battle Beyond The Dolestars after making a false start on book two last year and realized I had a lot to wrap up before I came up with a new story for the world I created. So I started to think what it would look like in a state of total war, which is where the seed of the book came from. It’s a book about what happens after a rebellion.
Battlestar Suburbia was a comic sci-fi space opera. Is that how you’d describe Battle Beyond The Dolestars as well?
It’s still comic sci-fi space opera — a critic described it as kitchen sink dystopia, a phrase I really liked — though I think I’ve written it in a slightly different register. Battlestar Suburbia was quite intimate in scale — lots of the action took place in quite enclosed spaces with a small cast of characters. With Battle Beyond The Dolestars I’ve opened that up, so there are bigger sequences: larger set-pieces, more characters and storylines, space battles, journeys across the solar system, and so on. The internal dynamics are still the same though. Wherever possible I try to make the action character-driven and deliver some laughs.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Battle Beyond The Dolestars but not on Battlestar Suburbia?
Because it’s written on a slightly bigger scale and takes in more of the solar system, I’ve taken elements of inspiration from classic SF writers like Arthur C Clarke. His 2001 sequence of books fascinated me as a child, which you will probably be able to tell from the fact that so much of the action is set around Jupiter. The military storyline in Battle Beyond The Dolestars is a big departure for me as a writer — I’ve never written anything with soldiers in it before — so for that I think I leaned on the military SF books that have had the biggest impact on me in recent years, The Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie. She has a brilliant ability to tell a military storyline through character rather than orders and missions (which to be honest reminds me a lot of Star Trek at its best) which I’ve tried to learn from.
How about movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big impact on Battle Beyond The Dolestars?
The Empire Strikes Back, as much as a cliché that sounds. When I first started writing this book I knew I needed to write something about a rebellion that was on the ropes: it gambles against a much more powerful enemy, loses and has to fight its way back from the edge of extinction. I found the structure of The Empire Strikes Back — a big battle, a betrayal, a retrenchment, and then a slow build back to a multi-viewpoint climax — incredibly useful here.
The other big inspiration for what’s going on in Battle Beyond The Dolestars is…the news. As I got into it, I realized I was also writing about a society that was drifting into fascism. I was interested in exploring how — as the world recalibrates its moral compass around you from “I don’t agree with some people” to “I would like to shoot people who disagree with me” — you can continue to function as a good person. As a consequence, some parts of what I’ve written might feel a little on the nose for someone who keeps up with current affairs, but frankly writing this book has been my way of processing all that’s going on.
And what about the movie Battle Beyond The Stars?
Beyond the name and a few misty memories or questionable alien outfits, not much. I don’t think I’ve seen it in thirty years.
Actually no, not quite. The other thing I took from it — and this is a feeling rather than a concrete memory — is the sense of desperation in the last act of the film. You got the distinct feeling from it that “this is it.” If we lose, everything is lost. I think I tried to bring some of that into the climax of Battle Beyond The Dolestars.
Battle Beyond The Stars was loosely based on The Magnificent Seven, which was itself based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Was Battle Beyond The Dolestars also influenced by Seven Samurai? Or The Magnificent Seven? Or A Bug’s Life, which was also based on Seven Samurai?
I’ve seen A Bug’s Life (though that was nearly 20 years ago) and, to my shame, I’ve never seen either The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai, so I can’t say they were strong influences.
What I will say is that I understand that Seven Samurai is about a samurai who arrives in a village and teaches a group of villagers to fight for themselves. That’s not what my books are about. I wanted to write something that was about people finding the strength and ability to resist cruelty and oppression among themselves. I didn’t want an external actor to be the agent of change. I wanted that change to come from within.
As you said earlier, Battle Beyond The Dolestars is a direct sequel to Battlestar Suburbia. Given that, do you think people should read these books back-to-back or should they put some distance between them?
I think they should do whatever their reading time permits. As I said, they are direct sequels so if you feel by the end of Battlestar Suburbia that you want to know what happens next for Pam, Janice, Darren, and Kelly, then you can go straight on. However, the book has also been written to stand on its own, so you can pick it up later.
You also said in the previous interview we did for Battlestar Suburbia [which you can read here] that you have, “plans for further books in the series.” Are they happening?
I do have a start in mind for a third book, which takes the world in a completely different direction with new characters (though it will contain some familiar faces). It’s too early to say anything more than that though.
Earlier I asked if any movies, TV shows, or video games had been an influence on Battle Beyond The Dolestars. But has there been any interest in adapting Battle Beyond The Dolestars and Battlestar Suburbia into a movie, show, or game?
None that I can talk about.
Finally, if someone enjoys Battlestar Suburbia and Battle Beyond The Dolestars, what comedic sci-fi space opera would you recommend they read next and why that one? Oh, and you can’t say Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser; you said that last time.
The book I’ve enjoyed most recently with the perfect blend of character-driven action, invention and comedy for me isn’t SF, it’s technically fantasy. The book is The True Queen by Zen Cho. It’s set in a magical version of the 18th century, and is a sequel to the just as delightful Sorcerer To The Crown. I love it because not only is it a great adventure story, but it manages to explore issues like racism, colonialism, gender equality, and LGBT rights seriously, but with the lightest of touches.