Tell a good story in an interesting place and readers will want to know more. Which was the case two years ago when science fiction writer Peter Tieryas released United States Of Japan, an alternate history sci-fi story in which Japan won World War II. But while his new novel, Mecha Samurai Empire (paperback, Kindle) takes place in the same alt-history universe as U.S.J., Tieryas explains in the following email interview that you need not read the previous novel to understand the new one…and you may even want to read this new one first.
Photo Credit: Angela Xu
To start, what is Mecha Samurai Empire about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book in this series,United States Of Japan?
Mecha Samurai Empire is a standalone book in the U.S.J. universe, focusing on a group of mecha cadets who are training to fight against big Nazi monsters. The connection is loose between the two, and while there are some shared characters, it’s a completely new story set in a different time period focusing on very different ideas and themes. It takes place in three acts and three separate areas, with the first being in a high school called Granada Hills, second in the ominous Quiet Border near Dallas Tokai, and the final at the military academy at Berkeley.
Where did you get the original idea for Mecha Samurai Empire and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
I love mechas and wanted to write a story getting into the nitty gritty of the experience: Who drives them, what is it like to actually drive a mecha, what is their training like, what is the history behind the giant machines? etc. I also really wanted to delve into the world of the United States Of Japan, look around the corners, answer a lot of the questions I had about daily life there that I couldn’t the first time around.
I’m a heavy editor for the most part, but Mecha Samurai Empire turned out to be very similar to the concept and outline I had at the offset, only a lot longer. The book actually started life as a novella and ended up becoming one of my biggest novels.
Mecha Samurai Empire is obviously a science fiction novel, but is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or combination of them, that you feel describes this story better?
Probably alternate history as it’s reimagining history a la The Man in the High Castle, which is a huge inspiration…only focusing on the Asian perspective. The best alternate history gives us insight into our own world, so I hope people enjoy the way the contrasts highlight some of the ideas/facts from our own reality. One of the tricky parts about alternate history is balancing research and the fictional world you create, especially in this case as I’m drawing on a lot of the tragic history of that era and the Pacific region. So that meant any writing I did was followed by lots of fact checking, which wasn’t just limited to internet searches. I spent as much time as I could finding books with more detailed information, and talking to people about related topics when I could. Any time I diverged from history, I tried to have some kind of logic for it and mapped out a chart, even if it was an obscure event that I explained solely to myself. What happened to this country and that one? What type of government did they have, what type of trade do they engage in, what is their military situation? etc.
People compared United States Of Japan to the movie Pacific Rim. But do you consider any movies, TV shows, or video games to be a big influence on Mecha Samurai Empire?
There’s a long list of them, many of which I reference throughout the book. The biggest is the Metal Gear series and Zone Of The Enders. I was blown away when Hideo Kojima [creator of those series] blurbed Mecha Samurai Empire. But there’s also Mega Man, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! — the main character is named Mac, too — Neon Genesis Evangelion, Patlabor, and the Persona games, which are some of my favorites for their brilliant mix of academic life, philosophical ponderings, and cool characters. I could go on, but the best way to find them is to look for many of the references in the book itself and the find the alternate history version of them.
As I mentioned, Mecha Samurai Empire is the follow-up to United States Of Japan. Are you planning on writing any other books in this series?
I’m under contract for one more book. Similar to Mecha Samurai Empire, it’s a standalone story with completely new characters and a different storyline. I thought of games like Final Fantasy and [Iain M. Banks’] Culture series in approaching the individual U.S.J. books so that they’re self-contained.
Does that mean people don’t have to read United States Of Japan first to understand what’s going on in Mecha Samurai Empire?
You can read them in any order you like, though there are nods and Easter eggs from each of the books. I worked hard to make sure they stood on their own feet and had beta readers who had readU.S.J.,as well as those who hadn’t, to make sure it worked either way. Mecha Samurai Empirewas actually published in Japan first, and a lot of reviewers have recommended reading it first as its focus on mechas is very different from U.S.J., which was a dark dystopian political thriller.
Finally, if someone enjoys Mecha Samurai Empire, and they’ve already read United States Of Japan, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
I only have one other novel, which is Bald New World, and is about a world where a global catastrophe makes everyone bald.