As Futurama, Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera, and Space Balls show, combing science fiction and humor may not be easy, but it can work really well. Which is also what you get from Gate Crashers (paperback, Kindle), a comedic sci-fi novel from writer Patrick S. Tomlinson.
Photo Credit: © Jason Hillman
To begin, what is Gate Crashers about?
Humankind royally screws up First Contact and scrambles not to get stepped on like ants.
Where did you get the idea for Gate Crashers and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
The idea for Gate Crashers came out of a single line message that reveals itself about a third of the way through the book, which I don’t want to give away just yet. Everything else about the story was built around that joke and grew more or less organically from it. The finished product is, if I remember correctly, the ninth rewrite of the original manuscript, but the bones are the same.
Gate Crashers seems to be a sci-fi space opera. Is that how you see it?
It’s not space opera. It is definitely intended to be sci-fi comedy.
Oh. But is Gate Crashersjokey the way Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was jokey or is it more like the situational humor John Scalzi’s employed in Old Man’s War and The Collapsing Empire?
I didn’t actually get introduced to Scalzi’s work until after the first draft of Gate Crashers was finished. At the time I was writing it, I was trying to land somewhere between Douglas Adams’ philosophic absurdism and Terry Pratchett’s social satire on the comedy spectrum.
And why did you opt for that kind of humor?
Personal preference. I adore Hitchhiker’s Guide, but it was a little too loose, too disjointed for my taste as an author. I wanted to write something with a little more narrative cohesion and guiding plot. But neither did I think I was ready to tackle the very serious social and historical commentary of say, Discworld. So I tried to split the uprights.
So who do you see as being the biggest comedic influences on Gate Crashers?
Well, me, obviously. I wrote the damn thing. Outside of myself, probably George Carlin and Robin Williams, whose cynicism and boundless excitement are kind of my yin and yang to this day.
Along with them, what other writers do you see as having a big impact on Gate Crashers? And I just mean on Gate Crashers, not on your Children Of A Dead Earth novels, The Ark, Trident’s Forge, and Children Of The Divide.
I’m a big David Webber fan. He gets a pretty solid shout-out/takedown in one of the later battle scenes.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of those have an influence on Gate Crashers?
Futurama certainly did, and maybe Guardians Of The Galaxy later in the rewrite process. But honestly, there’s been a bit of a sci-fi comedy desert since Douglas Adams passed away. I was trying to take up that torch to some degree.
As I mentioned, you previously wrote a trilogy called the Children of A Dead Earth series. Is Gate Crashers also part of a series?
Well, Tor paid me for three books, so it better be part of a series or I’m in a great deal of trouble. Gate Crashers is not meant to be the first book in an ongoing plot, but an introduction to an entire universe of characters and stories to tell.
What can you tell us about this new series? Does it have a name, will it be ongoing or a set number of books…?
The universe we’re introducing readers to in Gate Crashers is called The Breach. So far, it’s part of a three-book deal, guaranteeing at least two more. The next book coming from the breach is called Starship Repo, comes out next June, and is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve got a teenage human girl runaway who get tangled up in some shady stuff and her only escape route is to join a crew of aliens who reposes starships from rich aliens who fell behind on their payments. It’s spectacular.
As you know, some people like to wait until all the books in a trilogy or whatever are out, and then read them all in a row. Is there any reason why they should do that with Gate Crashers? Or shouldn’t?
M’kay. I’m trying to remain calm here, because I too have grown accustomed to the binge-consumption culture promoted by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, what have you. But, as an author, working in this medium, I can’t stress this hard enough: Don’t wait until a series is over to buy it or there won’t be a series to buy. Publishers won’t just float you seven books worth of advances hoping it’ll all pay off the better part of a decade from now. That’s not how the economy operates here. If Book One doesn’t sell well, or Book Two has a big drop off, there will not be a Book Three. And then not only will you discover books you love years later only to find out they end at a completely unsatisfying cliffhanger, but the author will probably already be dead, or stuck in a cubicle because their shot at the big leagues didn’t pan out, which is a fate worse than death. Buy books you think you’ll like as they come out, or so help me, I will personally hunt you down like a dog.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced Gate Crashers. But has any interesting in adapting Gate Crashers into a movie, show, or game?
Not as of yet, but I’m certainly open to the idea. I’ve already written a screenplay adaptation of my debut novel, The Ark, which was quite a challenge. In light of that experience, I think Gate Crashers would be better served as a miniseries, or one-off season of television. It would be very difficult to cram it into a ninety minute or two hour screenplay.
If Gate Crashers was to be adapted into a TV show, then who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Finally, if someone enjoys Gate Crashers, what funny sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next? Aside from the Adams and Scalzi ones we already talked about, of course.
Oh, that’s the easiest question yet. Becky Chambers’ A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, and Cat Valente’s Space Opera. They captured exactly the niche and atmosphere I wanted to get into when I first started writing this thing back in 2009. They beat me to market, but also cleared the path for a new generation of sci-fi comedy to be taken seriously by mainstream audiences, and I’m grateful for their trail-blazing efforts. This long-underserved subgenre is blooming in the desert thanks to their efforts, and I’m ecstatic to be a small — but growing — part of it.