While sharing is caring, not everyone cares to do it. Especially writers when it comes to their fictional worlds. But for the third time in four years, author Michael Z. Williams is sharing the fictional universe of his Freehold sci-fi series with such writers as Jamie Ibson, Jonathan D. Green, Jessica Schlenker for the new short story anthology Freehold: Defiance (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Williamson discusses this third volume, as well as an anthology he’s contributed to, Battle Luna, which is newly available in paperback.
We already went in depth on the Freehold series when we did the interview for Freehold: Resistance [which you can read by clicking here], but just real quick, what is this series about and when and where is it set?
It’s about 500 years in the future, with effective but not instantaneous star drive, and limited trade between systems (due to transport costs).
It’s also set during the war between the UN — though mostly Earth, little outsystem membership present — and the Freehold of Grainne. In the established universe, the politicians start a war for political reasons, demand specific outcomes that are unrealistic and difficult to attain, and it turns into a quagmire that destroys two systems directly, and damages others politically and economically.
Freehold: Defiance is the third collection of Freehold short stories you’ve put together. Aside from being part of the Freehold saga, is there a theme to this collection?
It covers the same timeframe and the stories are roughly sequential, but they’re not tied together with a thread and interlocking events, the way Resistance was. So it matches any of the main universe novels: Freehold, The Weapon, and Angeleyes.
How did you decide what writers you wanted to contribute to Freehold: Defiance?
I asked several, some were available, some not. I had a couple of specific arcs pegged and invited the authors into those. Some of the stories had been planned for Resistance, but it went too long on word count. Jason [J.F. Holmes] and John [Cordova] had already written one for fun and it dropped right in.
And who decided what these writer would write about?
It varies. We’d needed an intro story for the first one, but the author bailed on us and we had to work around it. Jamie Ibson already had a lengthy piece in there, and word count was an issue, so I had him write that one for this anthology — first-hand view of the attack from the POV of city safety officers. He had his previous, more technical story roughed out. I invited Jessica [Schlenker] to write one I had in mind, of a very asocial character fighting being overwhelmed by forced socialization, and did that ironically fit well this last year. (NOTE: Jess is my wife, but slings really good words and has plenty of technical credits and degrees for any of this). William McCaskey had managed an anthology I’m in, Fantastic Hope, and wanted to cover more of the Indonesian-descended Freeholders and the south Islands. Jonathon Green came up with a hilariously sarcastic way of screwing with bureaucrats that fit in great. Kevin Anderson and Kevin Ikenberry took it outsystem, showing how the politics, scheming, and fallout can affect other systems. Chris and Doc Wohlrab (intelligence officer and combat medic), I asked to cover an interpretation of a real world event into a future keystone of a story rough and in the crud where both sides are just trying to stay alive while the planet tries to kill them. Jaime DiNote and Justin Watson independently wrote similar events with vastly different outcomes, showing how military units handle stress and action differently, with both events influencing the other units unseen. Holmes and Cordova had already written a deep winter story of retired snipers snarking at each other while racking up points. I covered a contract unit needing money, and not wanting to anger their host nation, and a rebel unit handling reconnaissance before finally setting an ambush. Two of my other stories are reprints published elsewhere before appearing directly in the canon books.
In the case of the stories where you had the idea for them, why did you decide to ask other people to write these stories instead of just doing it yourself?
I could have, but I liked having different POVs with different skillsets throw in and give a richer flavor and more depth.
Are there any contributors to Freehold: Defiance who were also in Freehold: Resistance and in the first anthology, Freehold: Forged In Blood?
J.F. Holmes and Jason Cordova have been in all three. I did invite some authors to return, who couldn’t for personal or professional reasons: health, deadlines, not finding a story idea that grabbed them.
Resistance and Defiance have returning Jamie Ibson, Christopher DiNote and Jaime DiNote (writing separately this time), Jessica Schlenker, Phillip Wohlrab, and Justin Watson. From Forged to Resistance were Christopher Smith, Rob Reed, Kacey Ezell, and Mike Massa.
If you could get anyone to write a Freehold story who you otherwise couldn’t get — maybe they’re too busy, maybe they’re not around anymore — who would be on your fantasy wish list and why them?
I’d give Tom Clancy a block, and Jerry Pournelle. Clancy would do some great, layered action, and Jerry would find some fascinating political interplay.
In the previous interview we did about Freehold: Resistance, you said that you thought that anthology would be a good place for someone to start exploring the Freehold saga. Would you say the same about Freehold: Defiance?
Possibly a bit less with this one, lacking the running threads and connected timeline.
Now, along with Freehold: Resistance, you are also a contributor to Battle Luna, the paperback version of which is coming out in a couple weeks. What is that anthology about?
Research station / colony on the moon finds an alien artifact that appears to be a fabricator. The UN demands control, and the Loonies [Luna settlers and scientists] are afraid of it being used for political leverage. Travis Taylor formulated it at a convention panel (I wasn’t on the panel). Tim Zahn wrote the first story, and I springboarded from his. The Loonies have few actual weapons, so lots of physics and fabrication came into play: mining explosives, paintball markers, improvised trebuchets, reactive chemicals, glues and solvents, cameras, pressure and vacuum, high intensity lights, radio jamming. The usual stuff.
How does working on a collection like Battle Luna influence what you do in Freehold: Resistance?
They’re quite different. I don’t think there was much crossover other than both groups being the underdog.
Finally, if someone enjoys Freehold: Resistance, is there a similar anthology of stories set in someone else’s fictional universe that you think they should check out?
Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker Base is one I remember. I currently have stories in several of John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising anthos. And there’s always Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars. Those are a lot of fun.