With Cry Pilot (paperback, Kindle), writer “Joel Dane” (not his real name) is kicking off his military science fiction trilogy of the same name. But unlike some similar sci-fi series, fans of this threesome won’t have to wait years to find out how it ends. In the following email interview, Dane talks about what inspired this trilogy and its accelerated release schedule, as well as why he’s putting them out as Joel Dane instead of his real name.
To start, what is Cry Pilot about?
It’s about a young guy with a dubious past trying to join the military. The only way for someone with his background to enlist is via suicide squad, but he games the system and survives. And then he thrives during basic training. Yet instead of settling into the military routine he expects, he and his new squad are swept up into a battle against a mysterious and terrifying enemy.
There are cool weapons tech and training sequences, and plenty of action, but the heart of the book is the squad. To me, this is fundamentally a story about a found family…that blows shit up.
Where did you get the idea for Cry Pilot and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
I actually sat down to write a military sci-fi story based on press gangs, which is absolutely not what Cry Pilot is about. My agent read my first draft and thought it was grim. Even worse, she thought it was grim in a tired way. Worst of all, she was right.
So I threw away that entire world and built a new one. Everything interesting about the current world — such as bio-weapons from a bygone war suddenly roaring to life — emerged after that first draft.
Cry Pilot is a military sci-fi story. But are there other genres at work in this story as well?
Well, I find the banter amusing.
In many ways, the book is standard military sci-fi. I love the traditional tropes: training, bonding, and blasting. But this world isn’t a dystopia and there’s no — well, very little — macho posturing. The main character is tough as hell…and wounded and sensitive, in his own way. I don’t think it counts as another genre exactly, but in terms of personal dynamics Cry Pilot is definitely more Firefly than Starship Troopers.
You are the son of an Army Private and an Air Force Staff Sergeant. Did you ask either or both of your parents for any feedback on the military aspects of Cry Pilot?
My parents mostly read non-fiction, so I asked friends who’ve served more recently. In fact, I shamelessly stole and recast the Three Block War concept based on a conversation with one of them. But I grew up around military stories — most of which were pretty irreverent — and I’m sure that informed my approach. Or my tone, anyway.
Now, Cry Pilot is not your first novel. Though it is, if I’m not mistaken, the first you’ve published under the name Joel Dane. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Cry Pilot but not on anything else you’ve written?
Yeah, this is my first “Joel Dane” book. Hmm. I suspect that everything informs everything, though I guess it’s hard to know exactly how. The most immediate influences are probably Marko Kloos’ Terms Of Enlistment and Linda Nagata’s Red series.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have an influence on Cry Pilot? Because along with those other books you’ve published, you’ve also written a bunch of movies and TV shows.
Well, I’ve certainly written a bunch of movies, but nothing’s been produced. Yet. So I can only claim the TV episodes. One of the screenwriters for Mad Max: Fury Road was kind enough to blurb Cry Pilot, and I took some inspiration from that movie, at the least in terms of a range of strong women. Also, I’ve always enjoyed stories with tight-knit squads. There’s a Hong Kong movie called The Mission that I’ve loved forever, and I’m a big fan of the notorious box-office bomb The Thirteenth Warrior. And of course there’s the anime Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is one of the great triumphs of contemporary storytelling.
So why did you decide to put Cry Pilot out under the name Joel Dane as opposed to your other books?
As a reader I always appreciate when a writer “brands” different genres with different names. I plan to write another fourteen military sci-fi novels, and I want to help people find those books without getting confused by my other work.
And is that why your bio also doesn’t say what books, movies, or TV shows you’ve written?
Yeah. Also, I enjoy being new and mysterious.
I actually wanted to create a whole “Joel Dane” persona by making wild claims in the bio —”Dane was born in a submarine off the coast of New Zealand…” — but my publisher, being hidebound and reactionary — and, y’know, professional — made me stay honest.
Now, Cry Pilot is the first book in a trilogy. But what’s interesting is the other books are coming out rather soon: Burn Cycle will be out February 4, 2020; Kill Orbit will be out that summer. Whose idea was it to put out the three books so close together?
I requested the accelerated schedule, and happily my editor agreed. I hate waiting a full year for the next book in a series. Also, the overall plot felt propulsive to me, and I wanted to harness that in the drafting. At least in the initial drafting. I did endless painful rewriting, but that’s always the case with me.
I keep dreaming of the day when I get a book right the first time.
As you know, some people will wait until all three books are out before reading any of them, and some will then read them all in a row. Do you think they should do this, or is there some reason you think they shouldn’t wait?
Honestly, I’ll sometimes wait with a sci-fi series if the first book is densely technological. As a reader, I love that stuff — but I don’t want to have to master it twice. That’s not an issue with Cry Pilot. The story is driven more by character and conflict than technology. So I think this one is down to personal preference.
Earlier I asked if Cry Pilot was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
A producer is reading it at the moment…which is effectively the same as saying “there’s no real interest yet” because producers look at tons and produce ounces.
If this is one of those ounces, do you have a preference as to what it becomes?
At first I thought Cry Pilot would work best as a movie. Well, a trilogy of movies. Then I considered The Expanse and Altered Carbon, and realized it should definitely be a TV show.
So, in summary: a video game. Absolutely a video game. There’s the conventional Ghost Recon-style combat against “patriots” (the bad guys in the Cry Pilot universe) in the mega-cities, then there’s heavier battles against regenerated autonomous combat platforms in the “terrafixing” (strange, primeval forests, and swamps) and finally there’s a weapon that only the squad can wield, against a new and terrifying threat…
If Cry Pilot is made into a movie or TV show, though, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I’m weirdly terrible at casting my books. All I know is, I’ll need one scary, soulful hero; one big, bald, mean woman; one badass guy with an easy grin, one petite woman with jaguar-printed skin, and a twitchy girl with Big Secrets. Easy!
Also, would you want to write the script for the movie, show, or game?
I’d love to write the script, and I like to think that I’m a brutal enough writer to slash the source material into ribbons for reassembly on screen. However, producers often shy away from asking novelists to adapt their own work.
Finally, if someone enjoys Cry Pilot what similar military science fiction novel would you suggest they read next while waiting for Burn Cycle and Kill Orbit to come out?
I tend to read in not-too-similar genres when I’m working. So while writing this series, some SF-but-non-military books I’ve loved are: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, Semiosis by Sue Burke, Phoresis by Greg Egan, The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata (which actually is military sci-fi but nearer in the future), and basically anything by Marko Kloos.