With Kill Orbit (Kindle, audiobook), writer Joel Dane is concluding the Cry Pilot military science fiction trilogy he began in 2019 with Cry Pilot and continued a few months ago with Burn Cycle. In the following email interview, he not only explains how this third and final piece came to be, but he also offers suggestions of what you should read while waiting for his next sci-fi story.
Photo Credit: Ben Z. Naftal
I’d like to start with some background. For those who haven’t read any of the books, what is the Cry Pilot trilogy about, and when and where is it set?
I’d say that the trilogy is fundamentally about a found family…in a setting with a great deal of pew-pew-pew and heavy dollops of bang-pow. 99.99% of Earth is covered in the “terrafixing,” which is repairing environmental damage while humans live in megacities. However, strange new threats are roaring out of the wilderness. First the reengineered husks of biological weapons, then something new, and far more deadly.
Maseo Kaytu joins the military to redeem himself for the sins of his past. But he finds more than redemption in his squad: he finds a family. In Cry Pilot, he learns to wield the only weapon that can defend against this new threat. In Burn Cycle, he and his squad track the enemy to their lair…
And then what is Kill Orbit about, and aside from being the last book of three, how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first two, Cry Pilot and Burn Cycle?
Kill Orbit begins a few hours after Burn Cycle ends. In it, Kaytu and his squad are sent on a mission far from Earth. They’re not trained for combat in micro-gravity, but their expertise is required. Just for a simple job, though. Surely nothing will go wrong.
When in relation to writing Cry Pilot and Burn Cycle did you come up with the idea for Kill Orbit, and how, if at all, did the story change as you wrote it?
I knew from the start that I wanted to send the squad into space for the third book. I mean, it’s a military sci-fi trilogy. We need spaceships! And I knew the broad outlines of the story — why the squad, these “groundhog” grunts, were sent into space to fight the gathering threat — as well as some of the specific character moments. But stories always seem to change as I write them.
Cry Pilot and Burn Cycle were military sci-fi stories. Is that how you’d describe Kill Orbit as well?
Kill Orbit is still very much military sci-fi, though I’d say it’s also a love story. Not a romance: I’d actually planned more romance than ended up in the final draft. But, uh…I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say that Kaytu’s non-romantic love for one of the other characters is, to me, very much the heart of the book.
Now, as I mentioned, Kill Orbit is the final book in the Cry Pilot trilogy. But some of your fellow trilogy writers have expanded theirs with sequel trilogies or side stories or prequels. Are you planning to do that as well?
I have no plans to write anything else in this universe. To me, the story is done. However, that said, I have to admit that I’ve idly daydreamed a possible offshoot story or two. Just along the vaguest lines.
So…what are you doing next? Because in the Q&A we did for Cry Pilot [which you can read by clicking here] you said, “I plan to write another fourteen military sci-fi novels.”
Yes! I’m actually working on something now that I think is a military sci-fi novel. But a dozen chapters in, it’s turning out a little odd, genre-wise, so I’m not completely sure. I’m being a little looser with the overall plot, which may undermine the whole damn thing.
Cool. Going back to the trilogy, there are people — myself included — who have been waiting for Kill Orbit to come out so we can read all three back-to-back. But do you think this is the best way to experience this story?
I think the trilogy works really well as a single story. In fact, the end of the third book is in some ways an answer to a statement Kaytu makes on the first page of the first book. I’m offensively pleased about that. I hope that the first two books each end in place that gives the reader a moment of closure or completion, but it definitely isn’t that case that “off-screen” months — or even days — elapse between the books. The story is much one continuous whole.
I personally would read them all at once, but I love doing that. I can never just reread the first book of trilogies; I invariably read the whole damn thing. (I finished my umpteenth re-read of Tom Perry’s Butcher’s Boy trilogy last week, and before that it was Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy.)
In the previous interviews that we did for Cry Pilot and Burn Cycle [which you can read by clicking here] you mentioned that there had been some interest in turning this trilogy into…well, you didn’t say whether the interest was for a movie, TV show, or video game. Has there been any movement on that?
I can tell you not to ask depressing questions. A producer read the first book with an eye toward film — and they will no doubt approach me with extreme interest and wheelbarrows of cash once the books hit the top of the NYT bestseller list. But until that time…
If they did decide to make the Cry Pilot trilogy into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Maseo and the other main characters?
I am unutterably terrible at mentally casting my own books. I have writer-friends who make these wonderful Pintrest mood boards, with the perfect actor or model for every character, but I just can’t. Also, I’m old enough that most of my references are completely outdated. “A young guy like Antonio Banderas…” Though I certainly have general preferences: Cali should be played by someone who, if I met her, I’d find intimidating, Ting by someone painfully vulnerable, and Maseo by a gentle-eyed kneebreaker.
Also, while you wrote these books as Joel Dane, that’s not your real name, and in your other life you’ve written movies and TV shows. If the Cry Pilot trilogy was being made into a movie or show, would you want to write the script?
I would love to write the script! I’d adore re-envisioning the story in a more visual way, to highlight the emotional moments, not to mention the big-ass explosions. But novelists are rarely asked to handle the adaptation of their own work. Producers are afraid we’ll ask them to film internal monologues.
Finally, if someone enjoys Cry Pilot, Burn Cycle, and Kill Orbit, what military sci-fi trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
This isn’t a military sci-fi, or a trilogy, but I recently loved Eeleen Lee’s Liquid Crystal Nightingale. It’s waaay farther out there than the Cry Pilot trilogy, and just beautiful. I tend not to read in the exact genre I’m writing in, though. After finishing the Perry trilogy I mentioned, I’ve just started re-reading Jane Austen. Persuasion is so wonderful — and even better, Mansfield Park is so not. There’s nothing more affirming than when a super talented genius writer produces a meh book.