Having explored the time before the first game (Karen Traviss’ Aspho Fields and The Slab), the time between the second and third (Traviss’ Jacinto’s Remnant, Anvil Gate, and Coalition’s End), after the fourth game (Jason M. Hough’s Ascendance), and both during the fifth and before the first (Hough’s Bloodlines), the novels based on the Gears Of War games are now mining the previously untapped era between the third and fourth games with Michael A. Stackpole’s military science fiction novel Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Stackpole discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why you don’t need to have played all of the Gears games, or any of them, to understand it.
Photo Credit: Heather Hill
To start, what is Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising about, and when in relation to the games is it set?
Ephyra Rising is set 6 months after the close of Gears Of War 3, just after Dom’s death and the destruction of all the Locust and Lambent. The novel is about a world that has to recover from devastating war; about people who are transitioning from war to peace; and about the new threats that rise up to challenge those who would try and rebuild the world.
How did you come to write Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising?
Because it’s a tie-in book, the folks at The Coalition came to me and outlined what they were looking for in a novel that would cover this crucial period of the world’s history. Because we already knew where the world would end up in a quarter century, I had to use Ephyra Rising as a launch pad to get everything in place to set up the world we know from Gears Of War 4 and beyond.
And then where did you get the specific idea for Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising?
Once The Coalition informed me that they wanted a novel that would set up the world going forward, everything else kind of fell into place. I asked if they wanted a novel where we’d be battling over territory which was already claimed — a European style story — or if they wanted a more American / frontier oriented story. We talked about it, weighed the positives and negatives, and largely chose the frontier model. To make that work, I sent characters out to discover the state of the world and things took off from there.
As with all things Gears Of War, Ephyra Rising is a military sci-fi story. But are there other genres at work in this story as well?
It’s not so much what genre the story falls into — though there is plenty of heavy-duty action — but the nature of the conflicts characters face. Marcus is dealing with two main issues. First, he’s still not handled the consequences of Dom’s death. Second, he’s a man who has been fighting for the whole of his adult life, and now the war is over. He’s trying to figure out who he’s going to be and how he’s going to get there. Anya, on the other hand, has to decide what she wants her role to be in the new world, and if she’s willing to pay the price to get there.
Now, prior to writing Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising, you wrote a ton of other sci-fi books, including original novels, some Star Wars novels, and so on. But are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Ephyra Rising but not on anything else you’ve written?
I can’t think of any specific writer or work that influenced Ephyra Rising. I didn’t model this novel on another book or historical incident. It’s also difficult, I think, for any writer to completely compartmentalize the influences of authors and work. In part that’s because influence is so incestuous. We all read the same writers, draw on them for inspiration, and learn to write by reading, largely, the same pool of writers and work. While I might not see a direct link between a particular writer or novel, that influence might have come through based on how those works influenced others, and how their work subsequently influenced me.
How about non-literary influences; was Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising influenced by any movies, TV show, or games? Besides the Gears Of War games, of course.
Gears Of War was absolutely the primary influence. It had to be, since the book is set wholly in the world. By the same token, I did a lot of non-fiction research, including interviewing soldiers who were in Marcus’ position, to see how they worked to transition from war to peace, and what all that entailed.
With the timeframe for Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising being between Gears Of War 3 and Gears Of War 4, I’m reminded of the books Karen Traviss wrote — Jacinto’s Remnant, Anvil Gate, and Coalition’s End — which explained what happened between the end of Gears Of War 2 and the beginning of Gears Of War 3. Is Ephyra Rising going to be the first in a series of Gears Of War novels set between 3 and 4?
Currently I don’t have a contract to do any more books in that setting. Early on we discussed the fact that Ephyra Rising is a tiny slice of a 25 year journey, so there is plenty of room for more stories. Whether or not The Coalition decides to explore that era more is yet to be seen. I quite enjoyed writing Ephyra Rising, so if they want me back, I certainly would be receptive to coming back. I loved working with their characters and bringing a few others to life. Getting back to play with them all again would be a joy.
Now, there are people who will want to read Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising because they’re fans of the Gears Of War games. But you have your own fans, and some of them may want to read Ephyra Rising even though they’re not into Gears Of War. Do you think someone who isn’t into Gears Of War will enjoy Ephyra Rising, and, more importantly, understand it?
This is a human story about people dealing with an extremely traumatizing time. It’s a story about redemption and recovery; and there’s a strong love story in there, too. While understanding the history of the world will add some nuance to the book, not having played the game won’t cause a problem. I think anyone who has read my other tie-in works knows that I work hard to make the stories fully accessible regardless of a reader’s previous contact with the world.
Finally, if someone enjoys Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising, which of your original novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
That’s a tough question because there’s no book which is directly analogous. So, let me offer two.
The Dark Glory War is a fantasy novel and the first book in the DragonCrown War saga. It stands alone and is the other end of the equation because it follows a young man as he begins his journey of becoming a soldier and has to face overwhelming foes.
The other is In Hero Years…I’m Dead. It’s a superhero noir novel in which a hero returns to the city where he grew up to find it severely changed. He’s dealing with the issues of having gotten older and trying to figure out who it was that kidnapped him and sent him into exile long ago.