007. Black Widow. Duchess. Secret agents always have the best nicknames. And Kangaroo, the hero of Curtis C Chen’s sci-fi spy novels, is no exception. Well, unless you don’t think marsupials can be sneaky bastards, that is. Though in talking to Chen about his new novel, Kangaroo Too (hardcover, digital) — the second in a series that started with 2016’s Waypoint Kangaroo — he revealed, among other things, that you might want to stick with calling his hero by his code name.
What is Kangaroo Too about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, with Waypoint Kangaroo?
Kangaroo Too takes place about one Earth year after the events in Waypoint Kangaroo. There is continuity between the two books, but the main stories are both pretty standalone. New readers should be able to pick up Kangaroo Too without having read Waypoint Kangaroo and still understand what’s going on: Kangaroo’s a secret agent, he has a superpower, we’re in a future with spaceships. And you’re good to go.
In deciding how Kangaroo would behave as a secret agent, did you research real spies, or did you look to fictional ones instead?
I mostly modeled Kangaroo on fictional spies. Mostly. The tone of the series is decidedly comedic, and I didn’t want that to be weighed down too much by reality. Actual espionage is at best tedious and at worst obscene, and I’m not enough of an intelligence community wonk to be able to write the real gritty stuff with any authenticity.
So which fictional spies were the biggest inspirations?
James Bond for sure — I read most of the Ian Fleming novels during high school — and also the works of John le Carre and Tom Clancy. Tonally, Kangaroo is probably closest to the Roger Moore version of 007; le Carre’s novels are steeped in very specific British colonial politics, and Clancy’s military hardware deep dives are interesting to me on a technical level, but less so narratively. I also wanted to subvert some of the dominant “spy-fi” tropes with Kangaroo, and humor was a big part of that.
In terms of both how you wrote it and what you wrote about, what writers and which of their novels do you consider to be the biggest influences on Kangaroo Too?
Others have compared my work to John Scalzi [The Collapsing Empire] and Gail Simone [Wonder Woman: Contagion], and you know what? I’ll take both of those. For Kangaroo Too, I derived some inspiration from parts of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country and Whiteout comics, and was keenly aware of Ian McDonald’s Luna books, which also take place on the Moon and deal with its particular environment and geography.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games. Which of those do you see as having a big impact on the novel?
Media-wise, Kangaroo Too was hugely influenced by one TV show: Supergirl. I hope readers will see why and appreciate my motives. To a lesser degree, Alias was also in the back of my mind, but mostly as a counter-example of how to do effective act-two reversals. Seriously. Don’t get me started.
As we mentioned, Kangaroo Too is the second book in this series after Waypoint Kangaroo. When did you decide that Waypoint Kangaroo would not be a stand-alone novel, and what led to that decision?
I’ve always imagined the Kangaroo books as an open-ended series. He’s still very young in these first two books — mid-twenties at most — and I hope to develop Kangaroo’s character over a long arc as he grows up and faces increasingly complex challenges, both as a secret agent and as a person in the world.
I also don’t plan to reveal Kangaroo’s real name until the end of the series. I’d like that to be into the double digits because I need to build up a lot of goodwill before then. Y’all are going to hate me when you learn what it is.
Given how much Hollywood loves comedies, spy movies, and sci-fi, this seems like a no-brainer, but I’ll ask anyway: Has there been any interest in making a movie, TV show, or video game out of this series?
The short answer is yes, there has been some interest. I have general opinions about how the books might translate into other media, but I’ve never worked in any of those fields, so I’d rather trust someone else with a good track record to actually adapt the Kangaroo books.
If Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo Too were going to be made into a movie, show, or game, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Again, I have thoughts, but I would want someone with more clout to fight for their dream cast. The only hill I would personally die on is making sure Kangaroo looks like “a brown kid,” as he describes himself at one point in the first book. Don’t Starship Troopers me, bro.
Finally, if someone enjoyed Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo Too, what would you suggest they read while waiting for Live And Let Kangaroo to come out?
Mishell Baker’s Arcadia Project books, Borderline and Phantom Pains, are amazing. They’re fantasy, but in tone and setup are similar to Kangaroo. The protagonist, Millie, also has a special power that makes her invaluable to her organization, and she also snarks up a storm, often much to others’ dismay. I’m really looking forward to Impostor Syndrome, which comes out next year.