They say that adversity makes strange bedfellows. Apparently killing your gods does as well. In Zoe Hana Mikuta cyberpunk / dustpunk sci-fi novel Gearbreakers (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), we’re not only presented with a world in which mechs are worshipped as gods, but one where people are trying to kill them as well. In the following email interview, Mikuta discusses what inspired and influenced what she says is the first half of an epic duology.
Photo Credit: Kiva Brearton
To start, what is Gearbreakers about, and when and where does it take place?
Gearbreakers is about 200ft mechas — known as Windups — that are worshiped as deities, and the renegade children tasked with taking them apart from the inside out before they can wreak havoc in the Badlands desert. Among the most vicious of these Gearbreakers is Eris Shindanai, a trained soldier and cold killer who will do whatever she has to in order to protect those she loves. But when she meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically-enhanced Windup pilot (and thereby Eris’s moral enemy), Eris finds they have similar loyalties, and a friendship grows, and then something more. Together, they have one hail-Mary shot to destroy the mechas once and for all.
Gearbreakers takes place on Earth in a far, far future (isn’t that how it always goes?).
Where did you get the idea for Gearbreakers? Because the idea of a someone taking down a giant robot from the inside immediately makes me think of when Luke Skywalker took down a AT-ST in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with only a lightsaber and a thermal detonator.
I knew I wanted to write something with mechas, and honestly, all the rest of it just spilled from there. I definitely like the scale of those type of fights — Luke Skywalker and the AT-ST was definitely one of the visual inspirations: human vs. big machine. The scale of a bunch of five-foot-something children facing off 200ft mecha-deities is just plain ridiculous — even more ridiculous because the Gearbreakers take those odds, albeit with gritted teeth.
In deciding how the Windups would look and work, did you base it on any specific mechs you’d seen in movies or mangas or video games, or did you make them up from scratch?
I definitely wanted the Windups humanoid-shaped, like in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pacific Rim. That kind of form also has greater implications on some of the larger themes of humanity in Gearbreakers — how close can we get to being Gods? I also named the mecha classes as mythological beings that are classically “good”: Valkyries, Phoenixes, Paladins, etc. I liked the balance of them seeing good — Gods — to some, while terrifying to the heroes, and shows how religious is initially a wonderful idea, but terrifying if corrupted.
It sounds like Gearbreakers is a sci-fi story but with a little cyberpunk flavor. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’d definitely describe Gearbreakers as cyberpunk, at least in part — there’s the metropolis known as Godolia that churns out the Windups and whose people worship them as Gods, and the sleek and glittering city certainly fits that subgenre.
I would also call Gearbreakers borderline dustpunk, which I’m not sure is an actual thing, but that’s how I’ve dubbed it in my head. Dustpunk follows cyberpunk, where the tech that was all polished and neon is now second-handed / scrambled for, growing rust, in some sort of desert-like outskirts of where it originates from, like the Badlands in Gearbreakers. As an example, the Boonta Eve Classic podrace in The Phantom Menace falls under the term dustpunk in my mind.
Gearbreakers is your first novel. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Gearbreakers, but not on anything else you’ve written?
I can never shut up about [Rick Riordan’s] Percy Jackson And The Olympians, to be honest. One of the larger themes of Gearbreakers is that this war is being laced on the shoulders of children, and that they’re working so that no one else their age has to suffer for the mistakes of the generation before them. The Gearbreakers shouldn’t have to be there in the first place, doing terrible things, but it’s because they’re in that place, to do something about the bad in the world, that they will. Percy Jackson had this similar theme and it’s stuck in my mind ever since I read it, and I just wanted to make it tech-y, and a lot darker.
And how about non-literary influences; was Gearbreakers influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Y’know, besides Star Wars and all the mecha stuff you mentioned earlier.
I grew up having lots of exposure to sci-fi — Marvel, The Matrix, Jurassic Park — just constantly on the background when I was little, and those really stoked my love for the genre. I just had to write it. I love how it’s the only genre that comes from the (implication) of human intelligence.
Now, you have already said there’s a sequel in the works for next summer. But what is the larger plan? Is Gearbreakers II: Electric Boogaloo — as you are legally required to call it — going to be the second book of many in an ongoing series, the middle book of a trilogy…what?
Gearbreakers is a duology; the sequel, Godslayers, will be on shelves in June 28, 2022.
But I would love to do some sort of spinoff following its aftermath, with some of the characters readers will be familiar with, but perhaps not the main characters (they might need a little breather). If I were to do something, I would want to make it tons more lighthearted than Gearbreakers is currently, more concretely set in that dustpunk subgenre, too. I have no plot as of yet, but definitely want to do something with robots, of course, and some sort of robot-related competition? I love that kind of tournament-arc.
What was it about writing Gearbreakers that not only made you want to write a sequel, but to have that sequel be the second half of a duology as opposed to, say, the middle part of a trilogy?
I just couldn’t fit everything I wanted to do in Gearbreakers. I wanted to go more into detail for the mecha-religion (Mechvespers), wanted more Windup classes, more characters on the opposite side (one of the overarching themes is that war isn’t black-and-white, because people are messy and complicated and wonderful), and, of course, a masquerade ball scene. I also was far from ready to be done with Sona and Eris, the heroes.
Upon learning that Gearbreakers is the first half of a duology, some people will decide to wait until Godslayers comes out before reading any of them. But is there any reason why you think they shouldn’t wait?
Depends on your reading style… I will admit I leave Gearbreakers on quite a nasty cliffhanger, so it depends if someone is one for the anticipation or not. I would say that reading Gearbreakers before Godslayers comes out would put you in that same headspace as the characters, who maybe are in an anticipative state as well until chapter 1 of the second book.
Along with Gearbreakers and Godslayers, you also have a third novel in the works, Rabbit & Sickle. What is that book about, and do you know yet when it will be available?
Rabbit & Sickle. is my YA fantasy horror, an Alice In Wonderland retelling meets Attack On Titan meets [Tamsyn Muir’s] Gideon The Ninth.
A little pitch for you: After humankind’s failed attempt to weaponize divinity, feral Saints infest Wonderland. Crow-witch Carousel Rabbit hunts them down, carving out a name for herself as the young Red Queen’s (Hattie) favorite butcher. Caro has left behind a dark past — a bad breakup and a criminal record, in that order — and now, as a successful Saint-harvester, lives the high life in the glittering capitol Ward of Petra, protected from the horrors of Wonderland by the Queen’s own monsters. But then a witch by the name of Iccadora Alice Sickle cakes blood on a rose garden — an ancient spell that pins Saints under her control. As her Saints spill through the Petra streets, the Queen orders Carousel to hunt down Alice before she becomes unstoppable. Alice and Caro are also ex-girlfriends and absolutely hate each other.
I love the story so much. My and agent I haven’t put the book out on submission yet but we’re hopeful for a contract by the end of the year.
Earlier I asked if Gearbreakers had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Gearbreakers could work as a movie, show, or game?
I would love any of these, honestly. I am personally more accustomed to TV shows — you can definitely fit more plot and character development in them than films, and Gearbreakers is emotional-arc heavy as well as the most physical plot.
I haven’t really thought about a game but this, of course, would also be very kick-ass. I think I would have to go with the game as the best option, since I feel it fits the tech-y theme of Gearbreakers the best.
And if someone wanted to make a Gearbreakers / Godslayers game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I would love the animated comic-book style of the Borderlands series; Borderlands 2 is my absolute favorite video game of all time. Such an incredible storyline too. Gearbox Software please contact me. I’m picturing a first-person shooter, loot-based (I always need more loot-based games), some car stuff going on, taking down mechas first and then the greater city.
Finally, if someone enjoys Gearbreakers, what mecha sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Godslayers to come out?
Iron Window by Xiran Jay Zhao comes out September 21st, 2021, and it twines mechas and East Asian myth in a sci-fi retelling of Wu Zetian, the first and only female emperor in Chinese history. Includes fighting aliens lurking past the Great Wall. Highly recommend for everything in the previous sentences.