With Deploying Dragons (paperback, Kindle), writer Dan Koboldt is continuing the Build-A-Dragon Sequence he started with 2021’s Domesticating Dragons. In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced this military sci-fi technothriller.
For people who didn’t read the first book, Domesticating Dragons, or the interview we did about it, what is the Build-A-Dragon Sequence about?
It’s a near-future science fiction series in which scientists have used genetic engineering and synthetic biology to create a new species of reptilian predator. Initially, these reptiles were created to address the real-world problem. Now, the company that developed the technology wants to produce commercialized dragons for sale as pets and companions (dogs were all but wiped out by a canine pandemic). The main character is a genetic engineer named Noah Parker who lands a job at the company just as it’s trying to crack domestication. Little did they know that he’s got an agenda of his own: using the company’s sophisticated genetic engineering tools to help find a cure for his brother, who has a genetic disease.
And then for those who did read Domesticating Dragons, and can thus ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT like I’m yelling “MOVIE” in a crowded firehouse, what is Deploying Dragons about, and how does it connect to Domesticating, both narratively and chronologically?
Deploying Dragons picks up shortly after Domesticating Dragons ends. By this point the Build-A-Dragon Company has developed a number of specialized dragon models for retail sale. However, they’re looking to expand in a new direction. The U.S. Department Of Defense would like to develop dragon technology for use on the battlefield. Noah is on the fence about this application, but it seems inevitable…especially when he learns that his former adversary, who used to run the company, has gotten a hold of the necessary technology to make dragons of his own. What started out as an exploratory venture becomes a competition to win the D.O.D. contract and control the future of dragon engineering.
Now, in the interview we did about Domesticating Dragons, you said it was a stand-alone story, “Though I probably wouldn’t say no to writing more stories in this world.” So when Baen [the publisher of Domesticating Dragons] asked you to write a sequel, did you already have an idea for a second book, or did you start thinking about it after they asked you to write one?
As much as I’d love a world where my publisher comes to me to ask for another book, that wasn’t quite how it played out. What happened — and what I couldn’t tell you back then — was that I’d written an epic heist fantasy. My agent and I didn’t think it was a good fit for Baen, but since I’d just started working with them, we offered it anyway. With a twist: we said that if they didn’t want the fantasy, we’d love to talk about doing another dragon book. And you know what? That’s what they wanted. It worked out, because as you know, we sold the fantasy to Angry Robot and it was just published as Silver Queendom.
So then where did you get the idea for Deploying Dragons?
I think it stemmed from the real-world observation that new technologies are often co-opted for military purposes. We see it all the time with things like electronics, aircraft (drones), even hacking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, since defense spending is a major part of the economy here and elsewhere. Without giving too much away about the first book, the way it ended caused some problems for Build-A-Dragon’s core business models. They needed a new market for dragons, and new scientific challenges. Developing dragons into weapons seemed to fit the bill.
And is there a reason you decided to have Noah and his Build-A-Dragon Company work for the U.S. military as opposed to HBO or Amazon or someone who builds zoos?
Oh, damn. I probably should have thought of those.
In my defense, Amazon already made a commitment to drones, and HBO Max only has eyes for Discovery. How can I compete with that?
Domesticating Dragons was a technothriller. Is Deploying Dragons one as well?
There’s certainly still a technothriller aspect because they go up against a rival biotech company to try to win the D.O.D. contract. This book necessarily has a bit more of a military sci-fi feel because they spend a lot of time working with the D.O.D. personnel and soldiers.
Obviously, Deploying Dragons isn’t your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Deploying, but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Domesticating Dragons?
Honestly, the biggest new influence only on this book is my publisher. When I wrote Domesticating Dragons, I had no idea where the book would end up. It was very different this time because I knew I was writing for Baen and their loyal readership. So I read more Baen Books, including classics (e.g. David Weber) and some of their newer authors, like my friend Tim Akers. Knowing the likely audience and their taste undoubtedly had an influence.
I also had a new editor: after Tony Daniel left Baen, I was inherited by Jim Minz. We get along great, and I liked his notes very much. But every editor has a different style, and that undoubtedly affected this book.
How about non-literary influences; was Deploying Dragons influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
The biggest non-literary influence was the research I did for this book, specifically how acquisitions are handled by the U.S. military. My day job is genetics researcher, so I’m an expert in genetics, not military things, so much of this was new to me. There’s a long and fascinating history to how contracts are awarded for things like drones — which seemed like the best comparator to dragons. Plus, I benefited immensely from a critique partner who does know about this stuff, and I leaned on his expertise a lot.
As we discussed earlier, Deploying Dragons is the sequel to Domesticating Dragons. Is this it for the Build-A-Dragon Sequence or are you going to write more books in this series?
Writing is my hobby, and I have only limited time for it, so I’m never going to commit to a novel if I’m not excited about it. One of the most gratifying things to happen with Domesticating Dragons was that Library Journal picked it as one of their books of the year. As someone who’s always loved libraries and seen them as havens, that meant a lot to me. It got me excited about writing more books in this world.
As to what’s next, it is too soon to say. Early reviews of the new book have been very positive, which is encouraging, but we don’t yet have an idea how many people are going to pick up the second book. If it’s enough, heck yeah, we’ll have more books in this series. It wouldn’t be much of a sequence if there were only two, would it?
What I can say with more certainty that I hope to continue writing for Baen. They’ve been incredibly supportive of me, as have the other authors and the loyal Baen readers. So I’m going to try to stick around.
Now, along with Deploying Dragons you have two other books that came out earlier this year. The first, Putting The Fact In Fantasy, is a collection of essays you edited. What is that book about?
Putting The Fact In Fantasy is a nonfiction book for writers aimed at helping them craft more realistic stories with help from experts. The contributors are all people with real-world expertise: historians, linguists, horse trainers, and that sort of thing. It’s the second book that grew out of my blog series. The first one, Putting The Science In Fiction, was aimed at sci-fi authors; this one is for fantasy authors.
It’s a found-family story about a crew of misfits who pull off clever heists in an epic fantasy world. So yeah, all of the main characters are thieves and petty criminals. They generally steal what they need to get by and do their best to avoid attention. But when they fall in debt to the local crime boss, they’re forced to take on a high-stakes job to boost a shipment of a priceless hallucinogenic drug. If they pull it off, they’ll settle their debts and then some. If they fail, they’re as good as dead. It’s a fun and fast-paced read.
So, did you write Silver Queendom and Deploying Dragons either concurrently or back-to-back?
No, I wrote them at different times, and it was a very different experience. This may seem odd, but even though the genetic engineering stuff is somewhat related to my day job as a genetics researcher, I found that book harder to write than the epic fantasy. Some of that was bound to be due to the timing — it was a pandemic, after all — but I also wonder if my brain gets its fill of science during the day and this makes it harder to write science fiction at night.
Going back to the Dragons, is there anything else you think people should know about Deploying Dragons and the Build-A-Dragon Sequence?
Maybe it’s obvious, but there are lots of dragons. Sure, a lot of the plot focuses on the genetic engineering and the cutthroat world of biotech, but it’s really a book about people who love dragons and want to make sure they have a place in the world.
Finally, if someone enjoys Deploying Dragons, what dragon-free technothriller about science run amok would you suggest they read next?
Sphere by Michael Crichton. It’s one of his lesser-known books, but fascinating and creepy.