As Douglas Adams so aptly put it, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” Which means it may take a while for AAA to show up when your spaceship gets a flat tire. Good thing the Near-Earth Orbital Guard are always at the ready. Well, so long as you get that flat tire while being a character in one of K.B. Wager’s NeoG novels. In the following email interview, Wagers discusses the second book in this ongoing military sci-fi series, Hold Fast Through The Fire (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), as well as their plans for the future.
Photo Credit: Donald Branum
For people who didn’t read the first NeoG book, A Pale Light In The Black, what is the NeoG series about, when and where do these novels take place, and what was Black about?
A Pale Light In The Black follows three members of the NeoG Interceptor crew Zuma’s Ghost: Max, the new lieutenant looking for her place in the world out from under the shadow of her famous family; Rosa, who’s trying to manage the sudden shift of her crew and what it’s going to do to their Boarding Game chances; and Jenks, who’s trying not to not get busted back down to spacer again. It’s set in a (hopefully) alternative near-future Earth around the 25th century. Humanity has survived something called The Collapse and managed to go out into space — but not too far. Most of the action is centered around the base at Jupiter Station and back on Earth. The series is basically a loose collection of stories, centered around Interceptor crews or other members of the NeoG and the Boarding Games.
And then what is Hold Fast Through The Fire about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to A Pale Light In The Black?
Hold Fast Through The Fire takes place about a year after Black; we come in to the celebration of Zuma’s second Boarding Games win. Readers will see some familiar faces if they’ve read Black, but I wrote the books as stand-alones so one could conceivably pick up at any point in the timeline and read a story without feeling like they’re missing something. In it, we see some personnel swaps and the two new members of Zuma are keeping secrets from their teammates — secrets that may end up getting people killed. As the fractured team tries to break a smuggling ring that’s been profiting off the habitats in the Trappist system, they find themselves in the line of fire for some very ruthless and determined adversaries.
When in the process of writing A Pale Light In The Black did you come up with the idea for Hold Fast Through The Fire, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this second installment?
In all honesty, 2020 is such a blur I don’t really recall where or how the idea came up. I know it did sort of evolve while I was still working on Black back in 2019, but the outline and the finished book don’t quite match up any more. I know I was working on edits during the worst of the pandemic but anything beyond that I couldn’t really tell you in more detail.
A Pale Light In The Black was a military sci-fi story, though it was more about the soldiers than a war. Is that how you’d describe Hold Fast Through The Fire as well?
I feel there’s maybe a bit more action in Hold Fast on the NeoG day to day than there was in Black (which leaned a bit more towards the sports of the Games), but it’s still pretty solidly a military sci-fi story.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Hold Fast Through The Fire but not on A Pale Light In The Black? Or anything else you written?
Not really. Hold Fast Through The Fire is at the heart a lot about trust and relationships. If anything, it’s as personal a book as Down Among The Dead — the second book in the Farian War trilogy — was for me, though for different reasons.
How about non-literary influences; was Hold Fast Through The Fire influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because in the interview we did for A Pale Light In The Black, you said that story had a similar feel to the movie Dodgeball.
Hold Fast Through The Fire ended up having a darker tone than its predecessor. I recall playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Horizon Zero Dawn during the year, and certainly the post-apocalyptic setting of HZD probably had an impact on my mindset, if nothing else. I also distinctly remember putting in a line where Jenks calls Chae and assassin, that was directly related to my obsession with AC:O. [laughs]
As we’ve been discussing, Hold Fast Through The Fire is the second novel in your NeoG series. What are your plans going forward?
There are more novels planned. At the moment I’m under contract for two more books in the world. The third book is tentatively called The Ghosts Of Trappist, it’s another stand-alone but will be sequential in the established timeline — occurring after Hold Fast Through The Fire — and about all I can tell you right now is that it involves pirates, ghost stories, and AIs.
Now, along with Hold Fast Through The Fire, you also recently released Out Past The Stars, the third book of your Farian War trilogy. People can read our previous interview about Stars for more on that trilogy, but real quick, what was it about, and when and where did it take place?
The Farian War is far future Earth space opera, and the trilogy is about gunrunner turned Empress Hail attempting to settle into her new role as the leader of Indrana (a role she took on reluctantly in the Indranan War trilogy), only to be derailed by an impending war between two immensely powerful alien races. A war that threatens humanity and takes Hail down into the depths of her own personal hell. It’s not an easy task, but she’s always up for a challenge. This one might just be the death of her though.
Like Hold Fast Through The Fire, Out Past The Stars is also a sci-fi story, though I think it’s a rather different one. What do you see as being the biggest differences between these two novels, and the two series that they’re part of?
The biggest difference is the tone. Hold Fast Through The Fire is the darker of the two, whereas I feel like Stars is ultimately a very uplifting book. The placement of them also is a major difference, since Stars is the end of a saga and was about saying goodbye to old friends for me. Hold Fast is really just the beginning of us getting to know these characters who we met in A Pale Light In The Black.
I’m sure people have asked you who would win in a fight: Hail from The Farian War and Max from NeoG. What I’m more curious about is, do you think they’d get along? Would they be besties, would they be frenemies, would they hate each other as much as you hate me for asking you this question…?
Nobody has asked me that and I’m very disappointed in all my readers. [laughs]
Hail is incredibly deliberate, though, so I don’t see Max having too much trouble being able to predict what she’s going to do. I do think they would get along, though readers have joked that it’s more likely Max and Emmory would be sharing weary sighs while Hail and Jenks got into difficulty.
Now, Hold Fast Through The Fire is coming out six months after Out Past The Stars, and a year ago, when you released A Pale Light In The Black, it was just three months after Down Among The Dead, the second book of The Farian War trilogy. How do you think writing these four novels in such rapid succession influenced Hold Fast Through The Fire?
Oof. Yeah, 2019 and 2020 are all a bit of a blur, and not just because of the pandemic. Hold Fast Through The Fire was…difficult to get right, and there was a lot of painful stuff going on for me at the same time I was trying to do edits on it that both made the emotional beats of the story land hard but also ultimately made them really work well. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I’ve been dealing with burnout from the hectic schedule as well as personal stuff, and that’s made it difficult to remember even really what was going on when I was writing.
Behind The Throne — which was the first novel of The Indranan War trilogy, the trilogy that preceded The Farian War — had been optioned by Harry Potter producer David Barron. Has there been any interest, from David or anyone else, in turning the NeoG novels into a movie? Or maybe a TV show or game?
Not as of yet, but like a good many other authors the pandemic really put a damper on so many things in 2020. A Pale Light In The Black dropped just the week before the reality of this hit us all, and so it’s still sort of flying under the radar, but we’re hopeful now that we’re seeing a lot more people talk about it that someone will be interested. I’d love to see the NeoG in pretty much any additional formats.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hold Fast Through The Fire, they’ll probably go back and read A Pale Light In The Black, The Indranan War trilogy, and The Farian War trilogy. But once they’re done with that, they’ll probably need a break from all the kick ass sci-fi and want something different. What non-science fiction novel or short story collection or whatever would you recommend they read next and why that?
I’m currently reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, which is a gorgeous literary fiction novel about family and immigration and coming out written in an epistolary style.
I have also been throwing a number of novellas at people lately including: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard, When the Tiger Came Down The Mountain by Nghi Vo, Envy Of Angels by Matt Wallace, and The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water by Zen Cho.