In the following email interview, sci-fi writer Charles E. Gannon talks about Protected Species (hardcover, Kindle), the seventh book in the Caine Riordan Novel series. Though as he reveals, it’s also the second in a subseries, and both have a ways to go.
For people who haven’t read any of the Caine Riordan Novel series, who is Caine, what does he do, when and where does he live, and what is the crux of this series?
Caine Riordan starts out as a defense analyst for a publication like Jane’s. In the course of that work (in the early years of the 22nd Century), he is suspected of trying to access secrets and is put into cryogenic suspension before more responsible (and knowledgeable) parties can intervene. And now they can’t reanimate him without potentially revealing that he came very close to something that they do have to keep secret.
So he is kept in cold sleep for 13 years. When he is revived, he is offered a full reintegration into what remains of his life (complete with alibi / explanation) if he helps the intel leadership find out confirm whether reports of ruins on another planet are accurate. If so, it would be the first concrete proof that there are intelligences beyond Earth. Unfortunately for Caine, this launches him into a high-stakes (and high-lethality) world of political intrigue, power-brokers, and, ultimately, first contact. And from there, each new secret leads to another bigger — and more dangerous — secret.
It’s important to underscore that Caine is neither a super soldier nor a super spy. He is very intelligent, inventive, and versatile, which is how he survives. He has no physical abilities or training (at the start) that are extraordinary. So in that regard, he is something of an Everyman character.
And then what is the new book, Protected Species, all about, and when does it take place in relation to the previous installment, Endangered Species?
Protected Species is the tale of how Caine and his friends manage to protect themselves and become a force to be reckoned with on the distant and dangerous planet they crashed on in the preceding book, Endangered Species. That novel is essentially a survival tale, which includes coming face to face with ancient mysteries that challenge humanity’s sketchy understanding of what happened in the millennia preceding this one.
In contrast, Protected Species is more focused on how the group interacts with local cultures and both learns from, and teaches, them how best to defend against a variety of very determined enemies. Part of what Caine and his friends bring to the table is their greater understanding of, and ability to use, various ancient artifacts they uncover.
When in relation to writing Endangered Species did you come up with the idea for Protected Species, and what inspired this new book’s plot?
The two books were conceived as part of a single, extended arc that not only traces Caine’s journey to a personal inflection point, but also one that redefines the history (and so, the future) of a variety of races, including humanity itself.
The previous books in the Caine Riordan Novel series were all military sci-fi stories. Is it safe to assume Protected Species is as well?
Well, only two of the preceding books could really be called “military science fiction.” And while the second, Trial By Fire, was a war novel, that isn’t really the same thing as military sci-fi. You can have characters dealing with war — even fighting in it — without actually touching upon the ethos and particularities of “soldiering” per se.
However, Endangered Species semi-qualifies as military sci-fi in that, though there’s only one engagement that could be called a battle (and right at the end of the book), it is something of a culmination of Caine and Company’s efforts at building a reliable combat force — which is what has enabled them to survive on the ferociously hostile world. However, in Protected Species, the emphasis goes from fighting for survival to fighting back. That means expanding their force into a unit that is as unique and peculiar as the world itself. For me, it was interesting to explore the social and cultural dynamics of forging a military unit on that world as well as the tactical and strategic choices and constraints.
So, are there any writers who had a big influence on Protected Species but not on any of your other novels, and especially not the previous Caine Riordan ones?
There’s probably a little bit of my late friend Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series in there somewhere. And though it may sound like a strange fit, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle For Liebowitz, as well. Their contributions to this arc and the world upon which it is set are, admittedly, pretty general.
In the case of Janissaries, it’s really just the mindset of how a group of individuals with some useful training and equipment manage to survive and ultimately thrive in a far more primitive world (although that world is a whole lot more friendly, culturally and biologically, than Bactradgaria).
Canticle’s influence is just on the level of existing in a land where there is an almost religious fervor for uncovering — and using — the knowledge of long-passed generations who have become mythic and whose works are considered magical.
How about non-literary influences; was Protected Species influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Maybe a bit of influence from the film Farewell To The King, which looks at the challenges of turning warriors into soldiers (which may sound like synonyms but are actually quite different in many important ways). For the same reason, there may be some echoes of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But frankly, both of those are stretches. Protected Species is not only about highly advanced survivors teaching locals how to defend and fight more effectively, but also how those locals conversely educate the Terran survivors about the seemingly impossible phenomena that prevail on the world where they find themselves.
From the gaming angle, there’s probably a Fallout and Wasteland vibe in Protected Species. And maybe a bit of The Morrow Project. The planet Bactradgaria has many ruins and overlooked relics, many of which are complete mysteries to the current population of the world. And seeking salvageable technology in them — either to find a way to leave the planet or enhance their odds of surviving on it — are a major operational objective for Caine and Company.
While Protected Species is the seventh book in the Caine Riordan Novel series, its name has me wondering if Protected is also the second book after Endangered Species in a subseries. Like, Fire With Fire and Trial By Fire are one subseries, while Raising Caine, Caine’s Mutiny, and Marque Of Caine are a second. Is this the case?
100% spot on. It’s the longest, and central, arc of the series: the one where Caine’s life — and the collective understanding of what has come before this epoch — undergoes major change. Almost everything is impacted: his relationships, humanity’s understanding of physics, the context of interstellar history. From an inauspicious and desperate start — bailing out on to a barren and deadly planet — what the survivors learn not only changes their perception and objectives, but starts a count-down clock ticking in the background. Problem is, the group is not immediately aware of it…or the fact that the countdown is also constantly accelerating because of what they’ve unearthed.
So then do Endangered Species and Protected Species form a duology like the Fire ones, or will there be more books?
There are four books in the Species arc, which leads to a major conflict (the crux of the next arc, The Exarch Insurgency) through unforeseen events and conjunctions of countervailing forces. As is so often the case in both individual lives and the greater sweep of history, the actions taken by (and in response to) the main characters initiate a cascade of events more far-reaching — and dire — than anyone could have anticipated. This is not because the various powers and players have misread state of play on the chessboard; it’s because they were many pieces forgotten — or lurking — in the shadows at the margins. So it’s not just about the consequence of the choices we make; it’s about the ignorance in which we almost always operate, to a greater or lesser degree.
Now, along with Endangered Species and Protected Species, you also released a third novel recently: the epic fantasy novel Into The Vortex, which is the second book in your Vortex Of Worlds series. We did an interview about that novel when it came out, but for people allergic to hyperlinks, what is The Vortex Of Worlds series about, what is Into The Vortex about, and what kind of fantasy realm are these stories set in?
The Vortex of Worlds series is written in the epic fantasy mode, so there is a lot of attention to detail and constancy — whether that’s in magic, technology, politics, or just human emotions and psychology. In short, although the world may be “fantastic,” it is also very believable, balanced, and accountable to its own rules / details.
The main character, Druadaen, is a would-be warrior who is made to serve as an archival assistant, then a courier, then a border-watching Outrider. So, without knowing it, he has been groomed into the much more selective (but much less glorious) role of an intelligence operative.
However, in the course of observing other species and gathering information, Druadaen realizes that there are relationships in the world which just don’t add up. Specifically, they defy what appear to be natural law. And when he begins investigating that, he discovers that his journeys to meet supposedly homicidal humanoids, and giants, and even dragons isn’t where the real danger lies. It resides within the Consentium that trained him and keeps tabs on this increasingly broken world (the title of the first book in the series). The title of the second book, Into The Vortex, is a bit of a spoiler in that it arises from the advice that very old, and very wise, creatures give Druadaen about where he must seek answers. Specifically, that sometimes you have to leave your home — completely — in order to see it clearly.
Epic fantasy and military sci-fi are very different, but some people like both. Do you think people who enjoy the Caine Riordan Novel series would like the Vortex Of Worlds series as well, and vice versa?
Not only do I think readers will enjoy both, I have lots of reviews that indicate that being a fan of one predicts you’re likely to be a fan of the other. And that is more or less by design: both stories are set in accountable worlds where, though there is plenty of action and conflict, the real quest is to solve a mystery: that of the origins and operating principles of the world around the characters themselves.
That said, there are no one-to-one correspondences between the two series. Readers don’t come away saying, “This is the same story, just with different set-dressing.” They are markedly different. But a journey of discovery in a world that becomes more rather than less mysterious? That is a constant between the two epics.
Going back to Protected Species, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Protected Species – and, of course, the rest of Caine Riordan Novel series — could work as a series of movies, a TV show, or a game?
Because both series are heavily rooted in innovative and detailed world-building, I’m going to say that film would be the worstmedium. Don’t get me wrong: it would still be a fine movie, I think. But it would need the kind of treatment that Peter Jackson gave Lord Of The Rings: there’s just that much to dive into, and yet, there’s very little you could remove without substantially changing — maybe crippling — the energy and drama of the story. Unfortunately, I speak from experience (I was in the TV / film industry in the ’80s and ’90s) when I say that film is generally concerned only with what the camera can see. Anything beyond the viewfinder is extraneous.
Conversely (no surprise), I think both series would work best as games because a game has the entire universe as the canvas upon which its stories are depicted. You may or may not use (or experience) all the defined elements over the course of the game-narrative, but the creator is aware of all of them. Every detail of world-building gives depth and solidity to every other defined element…even if a player / referee never encounters or uses it directly. Also, I would actually hope that a role-playing game set in either universe would veer away from the story-arc of the books and explore the nooks and crannies that I could only hint at. That’s what makes world-building so rewarding, after all: that it presents us with limitless arenas of possibility.
I think a Netflix / streaming series would be a fine compromise, in that typically, that medium does have the time — and need — for more involved worldbuilding.
And if someone wanted to adapt the Caine Riordan Novel series into a game, what kind of game should it be?
Definitely an role-playing game. I think it could work either as tabletop or PC, but it would want the flexibility for expansions / DLC. When I world-build, I am thinking far beyond the frame of narrow use. The more the environment feels fleshed out and alive, the happier I am with it. And so, the happier — and more immersed — I think players will feel.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Protected Species or the Caine Riordan Novel series?
Just that there’s lots more of the Caine series to come. In addition to a major side-arc (Murphy’s Lawless), there are 14-15 novels in the full arc. But while that will bring us to the end of a given epoch, it does not preclude extensions from any of a number of dramatic lines. But I’m not about to reveal who might still be present to be the protagonist(s) for such tales.
Finally, if someone enjoys Protected Species, and they’ve already read the rest of the Caine Riordan Novel series, which of your other novels or series of novels would you suggest they read next?
Probably no surprise, but The Vortex Of Worlds wins that contest hands-down, for all the reasons I’ve cited above. And one or two others I can’t reveal…at least, not yet.