Exclusive Interview: Prime Authors Chris Kluwe & Andrew Reiner
With a planet where genetic experiments have run amok, the sci-fi novel Prime (paperback, digital) has been likened to — and sometimes by its own authors — Jurassic Park…In Space! But in talking to authors Chris Kluwe (yes, the former punter for the Minnesota Vikings) and Andrew Reiner (yes, the executive editor of Game Informer magazine and gameinformer.com), while Prime may be an intergalactic take on Michael Crichton’s sci-fi disaster tale, both note that there are a lot of other influences at work here as well.
Okay, let’s start with the basics: What is Prime about?
Andrew: The story follows a brilliant biohacker named Xander Lillibridge. He’s conducting illegal hacks on a resort moon located orbiting a distant gas giant. He’s making monsters; some for his own sick pleasures, other for Government, a political entity that lords over all of mankind. Early on in the book, we learn that his secret experiments aren’t so secret any more, and they’re about to be freed. From this point on, all hell breaks loose.
Chris: It’s also about the dangers of power, and how easy it is to deceive ourselves that we’re doing the right thing. A lot of people believe that “the ends justify the means,” and the characters in Prime are no different. What some people think of as heroic is often viewed as villainous from another lens, and Prime is a way for Andrew and I to explore those ideas.
We also have kickass action scenes, crazy technology, and a battle against a kraken, so I really don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to read this book.
Where did you get the original idea for it?
Chris: Andrew and I were talking one day, and we started spitballing ideas for a cheesy SyFy movie à la Sharknado. We stumbled on one that we really liked, started fleshing out the universe, and realized we had a legit cool sci-fi story on our hands. That was when we knew we had to write this book.
Andrew: The original discussion we had was really stupid, but exciting. I believe we settled on a story about a shark with a human brain that was a detective who solved murders but also gave into his killer instincts and killed a bunch of people. It was kind of like a shark version of Dexter, I believe.
I still want to write that story someday, but that talk led to some interesting ideas of how that shark would come to exist. Our talks turned serious, and we started exploring science and the cosmos. That led us to where we are today.
So why did you guys decide to write Prime together, instead of just one of you writing it?
Chris: We both came up with the idea together, and we were able to bounce suggestions off each other and keep one another going much better than I think if we were writing alone. Prime truly felt like a collaborative effort, where without either one of us, the sum wouldn’t have been greater than the whole of its parts.
In writing together, did you find that you were each better at certain things?
Chris: We found that we’re both excellent at ideas and writing, but that we have two very distinct writing voices when it comes to putting pen to paper. We figured out how to synthesize that into a coherent narrative voice that stays consistent from chapter to chapter, as well as one that reflects what both of us want to see happen in the book.
Andrew: I’ve tried writing dozens of books and comic books in the past, but always burned out on them. I didn’t want to do that again, and at the time, Chris was a lazy NFL punter, so he would totally burn out, too. We decided to work on it together. We found we had great chemistry, and were able to push each other to get it done. It was a fun ride.
What was the biggest thing you guys disagreed about, and how did you resolve it?
Chris: Andrew persists in wanting characters in the book to not die. Sadly for him, I killed everyone! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!
Andrew: He’s not joking around. I would send Chris some of my chapters with notes like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I tried something different with this chapter. It’s a little different than the outline we made, and it has some new characters. Let me know what you think of them!”
Chris would send back “I like it” or “This works well,” and we’d move on. But a few weeks or months later, I would see those characters that I lovingly created in new chapters from Chris. He’d kill them! Brutally, too! That almost always led to a text exchange with me telling him that we can’t kill everyone. He disagreed.
But outside of this argument that we continually had — Chris is a real George R. R. Martin — we didn’t have any problems writing this book. We were on the same page most of the way. The outline and fact that we love the same sci-fi and stories really helped.
You mentioned George R. R. Martin. Who do you guys each consider to be the biggest influences on your writing? And I don’t mean how you write, but what you write about.
Chris: For me it’s definitely the authors I read, tons of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as what goes on in the world around me on a daily basis. My favorite kinds of sci-fi and fantasy books are ones that tell an entertaining story, one with ideas and ideals that seem fantastic, but when you dig below the surface, you realize that it’s about things that have happened or might happen in our world. So many sci-fi authors use history as the backdrop for the novels, and I find it endlessly fascinating.
Andrew: All Michael Crichton. That man could visualize a world and hone in on an idea like no one else. We tip our hat to him in this book.
Do you think Crichton was especially influential on Prime?
Chris: Writers I know that were influential on me include Iain M. Banks, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Weber, William Gibson, and L.E. Modessitt, Jr., as well as many more. My goal is to surpass the people I think are great at what they do.
How about when it came to the monsters, how they would both look and act. What were the things that influence those decisions?
Chris: I’d say for me, the things that influenced how the monsters would look and act were a mix of classic adventure stories and trying to extrapolate why someone would want to create these things in the first place. It would have to be pretty drastic circumstances to justify some of Xander’s more interesting creations, and then it becomes a matter of, “Well, how did those circumstances happen?” Thus, in the universe we’ve created in Prime, it’s not just monsters for the sake of having monsters, but also looking at our justifications for making things that really bring nothing but pain if we step back and look at them analytically.
Andrew: Additionally, we wanted Xander’s fingerprint to be recognizable, much like you can tell Frankenstein’s monster was stitched together by someone. Some of the creatures display Xander’s curiosity and interests, and others look like a handful of different monsters were stitched together to create the ultimate killing machines.
On the book’s copyright it says “Prime and the Genesis Series are trademarks of Sharkbird Productions.” Can we take this to mean that Prime is the first book of the “Genesis” series?
Chris: Yes you can, and you might just find a preview of the next book in the Genesis series at the end of Prime.
Cool. So you’ve already started working on it?
Andrew: The second book is well underway. We learned a lot making the first one. Our outline took just four days for Prime. For the second book, we’re still working on the outline and are a good year into it. We are writing as we go this time, too, whereas with Prime, we finished the outline before writing a single word.
How much of the series do you have planned out?
Chris: We have it all planned out, and know the third book will finish the story. My hope, personally, at the end of the third book, is that the reader has one of two reactions: “You guys are fucking geniuses” or “You guys are fucking insane.”
Andrew: yeah, the scope and size of book three scare the shit out of me. I have no idea how we are going to pull it off. I’m guessing people are going to think we are insane, Chris.
In thinking about the series as a whole, was there anything that you realized you had to change in Prime because it would conflict with something you wanted to do in a later book?
Chris: Not really. We had an idea even from the start of Prime of where we wanted this story to go, and it was just a matter of keeping that in mind while writing Prime. One of my goals as a writer when writing Prime was to have certain sections and parts where, when you read back through it a second time, they make you think, “Oh, so that’s what they meant by that!” And then when you read back through it a third time, after you’ve read the later books, make you think “Oh, so that’s what they meant by that!” I don’t know if we’ll succeed or not, but that’s the goal.
Andrew: The big one for me is characters. I grow attached to them, and want to carry them on, but they may not be needed for the next installment. That’s a tough choice to make. Do we stick with the character, or go where the story really should be? Chris is good about keeping us focused on heading where we need to go…mostly by killing those characters.
Chris, you previously wrote a book of essays called Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. How was working on Prime different? And I don’t just mean because you collaborated with Andrew, but also in the sense of it being fiction vs. non-fiction.
Chris: It was different in that Sparkleponies was a collection of short essays and letters, things that I could write from beginning to end in a night or so. There’s some fiction stuff in Sparkleponies, so that wasn’t really a big deal. In Prime, I found I had to force myself to keep going at certain parts, where I wasn’t really sure how I was going to keep writing. Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part of any book, where you’re halfway through and the end doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. Luckily, Andrew and I managed to get through those parts.
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies was published by Little Brown & Co, but you guys are publishing Prime yourself. Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route with it? Or was it more that the decision was made for you?
Chris: More like it was made for us. We kept getting conflicting messages from publishers: One would say “This isn’t simple enough for us, we think the audience will find it too complicated,” and then the next would say, “We think this is too simple, there’s not enough going on.” A consistent reply would’ve helped us narrow down a problem, but unfortunately we didn’t get that. I’m hopeful that people who read Prime will see the love that we have for the genre, one built by reading thousands of books by multiple authors, and make up their own minds.
Andrew: Yeah, we had some serious nibbles and talks going, but kept hearing crap like, “Is it sci-fi or a thriller? It can’t be both.” We didn’t want to alter our vision to fit into those bookshelves at retailers. We knew we had something special and wanted to keep it unaltered. I’m glad we are publishing it ourselves.
Besides the book, you guys are also in a band together, Tripping Icarus. There are a lot of times when rock music and literature have intersected. Iron Maiden and Rush have both written songs about books, while Michael Moorcock has written lyrics for Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult. So, has there been any talk of turning Prime into a rock opera? Do you think that would even work?
Chris: That would be one of the most gruesome, death metally rock operas ever. We would need Metalocalypse to do it justice.
Now Andrew, you spend your days writing about video games. In writing Prime, did you learn anything that has impacted how you write about games?
Andrew: It did. I find it’s easier to describe story sequences now, as strange as that might sound. I have a slightly different voice for it.
Chris, you’re also a big gamer. Do you guys think Prime could work as a game, or do you think it would work better as a movie or TV show?
Chris: Yeah, I think it could definitely work as a movie. We made a conscious decision when writing it to have certain scenes play out like we would want to see them happen on a movie screen, and I think people will enjoy reading those.
Andrew: We even have some music picked out for it. We visualized a lot of our action as movie sequences before writing them.
Chris: But a video game just based on the first book might be a bit tough. Though the universe we’ve established has plenty of opportunities for cool game ideas.
Andrew: Yeah, there’s a great cooperative shooter in here. We have some characters that are armed to the teeth.
Chris: I think it would probably translate as either a fast paced first person shooter like Doom, or a slower, tenser adventure game like the first couple Resident Evil games.
So do you guys think gamers would be into Prime?
Chris: I think gamers would, because it’s a story with really interesting ideas about humanity and our future, and it also has fun action stuff.
Andrew: The science fiction we deliver falls very much in line with what we see in games.
Going back to the idea of a Prime movie, if it was going to be made into a movie, who would you want to direct it?
Chris: Neil Blomkamp or Ridley Scott would be my choice.
Andrew: George Lucas, but only so I could ask him repeatedly if he was trolling us with the prequels.
And who would you want to star in it?
Andrew: Benedict Cumberbatch as Xander and Kevin Spacey as Rob, our second main character.
Chris: I just want someone who’ll makes us look good.
Finally, I usually end my author interviews by asking which of their other books they would suggest someone read next. But since this is the first novel for both of you, I’ll ask this instead: If someone enjoyed Prime, what would you suggest they read next and why?
Chris: I would recommend any Culture novel by Iain Banks. Prime isn’t set quite as far in the future as the Culture, but I’d like to think that it’s a stepping stone on the way there.
Andrew: Chris stole my recommendation. Um…. How about Timothy Zahn. But not his Star Wars stuff. Read his Conquerors books.
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