You know you’re onto something when you inject realistic aspects into your science fiction novel, and people complain that it hit, “too close to home.” Which is what happened to author Nicole Kornher-Stace when people got a hold of their dystopian sci-fi novel Firebreak. Which raises the question: What existential horrors await readers in the follow-up, Flight & Anchor (paperback, Kindle). You’ll just have to read the following email interview about it (or, well, the book itself) to find out.
For people who didn’t read it, or the interview we did about it, what was Firebreak about, and when and where does it take place?
Firebreak follows Mal and Jessa, basically the near-future equivalent of Twitch streamers, in New Liberty City in the year 2134. It’s about corporate greed, rampant capitalism, and engineered scarcity, and these two nobody gamers’ attempt to stand up to something way too big to stop and attempt at least to slow it down. It made a bunch of people upset because it was “too realistic” a dystopia. Which as far as I can tell is the exact kind of dystopia we need to be aware of. It also got compared to Ready Player One a lot because it has a VR video game in it, but that’s really where the similarities end. It’s really not about the game at all, though I did have fun tapping into my gamer background to write it.
Wait, why did Firebreak‘s level of dystopian realism upset people?
I’m not really sure whether it genuinely upset people, but I still get comments in DMs saying Firebreak‘s world is “too close to home” for comfy reading, in that A) the theme of total corporate control is a very plausible extrapolation from our situation today, and B) thwarting it isn’t an easy fix that the protagonist can manage within 300 pages just by being extra plucky or something. If I knew how to single handedly uproot a corporate dystopia, I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing fiction about it.
Ah, okay. So then, for people who read Firebreak but are not still upset about it, what is Flight & Anchor about, and how does it connect to Firebreak?
Flight & Anchor follows operatives 06 and 22 through one of their failed escape attempts when they are twelve years old, have been in Stellaxis for several years, and have recently been introduced to the world with great marketing fanfare, merchandising, etc. I loved survival stories as a kid (still do!) and wanted to see how these two semi-brainwashed superhuman BFFs fared on their own in the cold for a few days with nothing on them but the clothes on their backs and a frankly hideous lack of street smarts. Meanwhile, back in Stellaxis, the Director is in a pickle because she doesn’t want the media attention associated with admitting that two of her eleven surviving operatives have gone feral.
Where did you get the idea for Flight & Anchor? Were you trying to think of other stories in the Firebreak-verse and this is what you came up with, or did you come up with the idea for this book and then realize, “Hey, this could be set in the Firebreak-verse”?
The latter! I’ll explain more about that a bit below, but it was definitely a case of somebody should write this, I want to read it. [pause] … wait a second. And then I sat down in front of a file and this story fell out.
So is there a reason why 06 and 22 have numbers instead of names?
They have both. They and their fellow operatives are strongly encouraged to only use each others’ numbers, just as they’re strongly encouraged to forget everything else about the lives the company plucked them out of. This, along with much else that’s been expected of them, will backfire eventually. Hard.
More importantly, why are they 06 and 22 as opposed to 07 and 55 or 26 and 2112? I mean, I get why you wouldn’t want to number them 69 or 007 or 5318008, but is there a significance in the story to them being 06 and 22?
Not specifically. There were forty-eight operatives in the program, numbered 01 through 48. At the time of this story, there are eleven left. Two of them happen to be these guys.
Firebreak was a dystopian sci-fi story. Is Flight & Anchor one as well? Because it sounds sci-fi but not as overtly dystopian.
It definitely takes place in the same hypercapitalist dystopia, but the focus of the story is more to do with the immediate survival needs of our two little superhuman escapees. Here they’re twelve, and they’ve lived in a lab since they were seven or thereabouts, so the hypercapitalist dystopia is something they’re inured to and don’t really question, much like the one we live in today.
So, are there any writers or stories you feel had a big influence on Flight & Anchor but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Firebreak?
Well, Flight & Anchor was written without a title, but the file name was boxcar children homage thing. I’d reread [Gertrude C. Warner’s] The Boxcar Children a few years ago — it was an absolutely formative book to tiny-new-reader-me but I’d never revisited it — and I was struck by how different that story would be today, if the children were navigating a landscape where most of society’s discarded objects were single-use plastic trash not built to last at all. What on earth would they furnish their boxcar with? So then I immediately realized that I’ve been working with just such a setting, and I have two children living in that landscape, with a record of escape attempts from an Authority Figure who’s mostly got herself convinced she really just has their best interests at heart, and from there it more or less wrote itself.
How about non-literary influences; was Flight & Anchor influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because in the interview we did about Firebreak you said, “…my writing has always been much more influenced by movies, TV, comics, and games than books.”
None specifically, for either book, but they both draw heavily on my general love of action movies, comics, and gaming. Firebreak is more overtly about gaming, but the feel of both books in my head, how the action scenes play out, how the fights are choreographed, etc. I owe more or less completely to the visuals of those media.
And then, to flip things around, do you think Flight & Anchor could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it could, but then again, I’m an extremely visual writer so in my head all my work lends itself to adaptation, since it plays out cinematically in my head and I mainly feel like my job is just to transcribe it. I think either could work, but I can easily see Flight & Anchor as a cozy survival game where you start off in this vacant lot with a bunch of weeds and trash and an abandoned rusty shipping container and you turn it into something awesome.
As we’ve been discussing, Flight & Anchor is set in the same fictional universe as your novel Firebreak, but is not a sequel. Are you thinking you might write more stories in the Firebreak-verse?
Oh, I mean, I very well might. Not only those books are connected but also Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, and Jillian vs. Parasite Planet. But lately I’ve been working on things that aren’t connected to those at all. That said, I’d be amazed if at least some related short stories didn’t impose themselves on me at some point. That’s how all these books exist in the first place. I mostly just mind my own business and get ambushed.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Flight & Anchor?
I didn’t write it with the expectation that it would be traditionally published. I wrote it for the 06 and 22 fans who’ve been emailing and DMing me for two years saying they wished there’d been more of those characters in Firebreak. I fully expected it to begin and end as draft chapters of a fan gift on Patreon. Somehow my killer agent managed to also sell it. So that origin story combined with the direct Boxcar Children homage means it doesn’t follow traditional narrative structure. Some of the choices I made that might feel weird I did deliberately because that’s how it was done in the thing I was homage-ing (?). And if it feels like I wrote it explicitly as a gift to the fans of those characters, well, that’s exactly what I did.
Finally, if someone enjoys Flight & Anchor, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
The core of everything I write is ride-or-die friendships, especially ones that readers will expect to turn romantic just because they’re between male and female characters. As such, if you’re as into those as I am, I highly recommend Collateral Damage by Taylor Simonds.