Among writer James Swallow’s many credits are books based on Star Trek: Discovery [Fear Itself] and Warhammer 40,000 [Sisters Of Battle: The Omnibus], audio dramas for Doctor Who and Stargate SG-1, and the scripts for such games as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the Fallen Ghosts add-on for Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and next year’s The Division 2. But his newest war of words is actually not that new. Nomad (hardcover, Kindle) is an action thriller that was originally released in his native England two years ago, but is only now coming to the colonies.
In the following email interview, Swallow discusses this new old novel, as well as Mr. Dane’s other adventures, and whether we’ll be seeing him turn up in a certain upcoming game.
To start, what is Nomad about?
Nomad is a fast-paced espionage thriller for the digital age, set in a Post-Snowden, post-WikiLeaks world where private military contractors, agile terror cells, and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies.
Marc Dane is an MI6 field operative who finds himself accused of betraying his country when he uncovers a horrific conspiracy, and he’s forced into a race against time to clear his name, relying only on his skills and his wits to stay one step ahead of those hunting him. Along the way, Marc’s fugitive path crosses with that of ex-Special Forces sniper Lucy Keyes and her boss, the enigmatic African billionaire Ekko Solomon — the man behind the shadowy Rubicon Group — and together they must stop a devastating terrorist attack before the clock runs out…
Where did you get the original idea for Nomad and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
The final version of Nomad is pretty much the same novel I came up with when I first decided to write it. I was driven by a desire to write something inspired by the blockbuster thrillers I enjoyed in my youth — the best of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming, and the like — but with a modern, digital-age twist.
Marc Dane came first, and he is a reaction to all the fiercely-competent never-miss heroes we see in a lot of modern thrillers; he’s an every-man type, always a little out of his depth. Marc begins the story as the “guy in the van,” on the side-lines while the door-kickers and trigger-pullers are in the thick of the action, but he gets dragged out of his comfort zone and into the middle of the danger. I wanted to write about a hero who is not an elite spec-ops badass, but someone who has to rely on wits, adaptability, and ingenuity in order to succeed.
Nomad has been called an espionage thriller. Is that how you see it?
There’s certainly a fair bit of the espionage world folded into the narrative of Nomad, but maybe action thriller would be more accurate. This isn’t a novel where characters spend page after page watching dead drops or getting into the minutia of tradecraft, it’s swift and deadly. I’m aiming for narrative that’s high speed, low drag.
When not writing novels, you’ve worked on a bunch of video games, including Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Space Hulk: Tactics, and next year’s The Division 2. Games are, of course, structured very differently from novels. How has working on them impacted Nomad, and is there any game in particular that had a big influence it?
At the end of the day, writing is writing, and I think having told stories not just in games, but also in short fiction, audio, and other formats gives me a broad experience of narrative to draw from. Writing games certainly teaches you how to structure plotlines with a sense of momentum and compelling core characters, and that’s something that translates well to the thriller genre.
In terms of influencing Nomad, there wasn’t any single game that I connected with, but if I had to pick one that was worth highlighting, I’d say Obsidian Entertainment’s Alpha Protocol, a modern-day espionage action role-playing game. It’s often overlooked, a flawed gem with some great game mechanics.
So did you sneak Marc Dane into The Division 2 somewhere?
Sadly not. But I think he would do okay as an agent of The Division 2, he certainly has the resourcefulness they require.
On a more literary note, are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Nomad but not on any of your other books?
My thriller “holy trinity” is Fleming, Ludlum, and Clancy, but it would be fair to say that other writers and their fiction have exerted an influence on my work. I’d have to put John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps in there, along with Wilbur Smith, Carl Hiaasen, William C. Martell, and William Gibson.
Now, Nomad was originally released in 2016; this is the first U.S. edition. Aside from changing words like colour to color, are there any other differences between this new version of Nomadand the 2016 one?
I didn’t change anything for the U.S. edition.
Nomad is also the first book in your Marc Dane series. Are there any plans to bring the other two books, Exile and Ghost to the U.S.?
Nomad will return for U.S. readers in a mass market paperback edition in the spring next year, and the next Marc Dane novel Exile will follow soon after in the summer of 2019. We’re hoping to bring Ghost and the fourth Marc Dane adventure to the U.S. as well, so keep an eye on Tor/Forge’s release schedule…
I’m currently writing the fourth book in series, with plans to complete a six-book story “arc,” but that won’t be the end for Marc. Past that point, I have a few more ideas for stories, so if readers want to keep reading them, I’m more than happy to keep writing them.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced Nomad. But has there been any interest in adapting Nomadinto a movie, show, or game?
We’ve had some interest in adapting the books for television — currently we’re in discussions with a couple of producers about how to bring Marc Dane from the page to the screen — but its early days right now. I think they’d translate well to a feature or a serial show, both have their strengths.
A video game would be a lot harder to scope out, but I wouldn’t object to the idea.
If Nomad was going to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I’ve definitely played that hypothetical “which actor?” game with these novels, I can’t deny it. For Marc Dane, I’ve always liked the Australian actor Liam McIntyre [Spartacus: Vengeance]; Lucy Keyes is modelled on Josette Simon from back in the ’80s but if I was casting her today I’d go for Danai Gurira [Black Panther]; and in my mind, Ekko Solomon has always been the suave Colin Salmon [Krypton].
And if was being made into a game, who should make it?
If it was up to me, I’d call upon my colleagues at Eidos Montreal, with whom I worked on the Deus Ex series. They’re a great team who respect story in games and who know how to create compelling adventures.
Finally, if someone enjoys Nomad, which of your other books would you suggest they check out while waiting for Exile to come stateside?
Thriller fans should check out Deadline, my novel based on the television series 24; I’ve been a fan of the show for years and it was great to write an iconic action hero like Jack Bauer. And gamers and cyberpunks will enjoy my Deus Ex novels Icarus Effect and Black Light.