Exclusive Interview: “Reckoning” Author W. Michael Gear


As fans of W. Michael Gear’s Donovan novels have long known, it was inevitable that The Corporation would eventually send someone to the titular planet to reaffirm control of their errant colony. Which is finally happening in Reckoning (hardcover, Kindle), the sixth Donovan novel. But as fans of these sci-fi adventure novels also know — and as Gear affirms in the following email interview — nothing on Donovan ever goes to plan.

W. Michael Gear Reckoning Unreconciled Pariah Outpost Abandoned Adrift Donovan

To start, what is Reckoning about, and when does it take place in relation to the previous Donovan novel, Adrift?

So, here’s the thumbnail: We’ve all been waiting to discover how The Corporation — some thirty lightyears distant in Solar System — has been affected by Turalon and Ashanti‘s return. Now it’s time for that stone to drop, and here comes Turalon. Hastily refitted, she’s been sent back to Donovan. In the mad scramble, four of the powerful noble families have placed agents aboard. One is Dek Taglioni’s fearsome little sister, Falise. She’s been sent to get a collar on her wayward, pouting, and spoiled brother. Among her companions are deadly agents from the Radcek, Suharto, and Grunnel families. Each has a mandate to take over Donovan’s resources no matter what and all are deadly in their own way.

But the greatest threat, and key to the Corporate plan, is the Inspector General Suto Soukup, a man with the power of The Board behind him. The people back home think that Kalico has become too powerful and rich. He, and his team of four emotionless cyborg investigators are arriving with the intention of indicting and arresting Kalico for crimes against The Foundation. And, with forty marines at his beck and call, no one can deny him.

But then, on Donovan, everyone plays by different rules.

Now, Reckoning is not the first book in this series in which a ship turns up and new people are added to the mix. But it is the first time those people are from The Corporation. Which seems like something that was going to happen eventually. Why was this the right time for it?

Paul, a well-designed series — like a good character — has a story arc. Fans have been waiting, knowing The Corporation is coming. And when they do, it ain’t gonna be good. Everything in the series arc for was ripe for a riposte from Solar System. Since the beginning in Outpost, The Corporation has always been the invisible gorilla waiting in the wings.

On Donovan, some of our characters, too, were ready to tackle new challenges. Among them, of course, is Kylee Simonov, Kip, and everyone’s beloved quetzal: Flute. Remember that Kylee once swore she’d kill everyone in Port Authority? Well, in Reckoning Kylee goes to town. As you can guess, mayhem follows. One of the most entertaining scenes I’ve ever written takes place when Kylee runs into Hofer (everyone’s favorite town drunk and brawler) in the toilets at Inga’s.

Not to mention that Falise is expecting to find the same loathsome brother, Derek, that she knew thirteen years ago in Transluna. Inspector Soukop is anticipating a cut-and-dried investigation. Kalico Aguila knows she is going to be arrested. And, to Talina Perez’s disgust, newly arrived nobles are being found dead all over town, but she can’t seem to find the murderer. And, last but not least, Whitey, the human-hating quetzal thinks he’s going to finally wipe out Port Authority.

Like the planet, the Donovan novels have all been rather dark, sometimes brutal. Do you ever come up with an idea for one and think, “No, that’s too much. I need to dial it back a bit”?

Nope. Honestly, Paul, I’ve never dialed it back on a Donovan novel. The darkest book in the series is Adrift. In a lot of ways, Reckoning is more fun than anything else. Not that there aren’t a bunch of bad things that happen. I mean, it’s Donovan, right? The planet’s a character, and for the reader, part of the payoff is when Donovan takes a hand in the story. People end up in gruesome situations. My rule of thumb, however, is to make it real for the reader. And part of Donovan’s charm is that you don’t know who is going to get eaten next.

Fun anecdote: I have readers who tell me they scream at the books, telling characters, “No! Don’t do that! Don’t walk under that mundo tree!” Which, of course, the character then does. To an author, it’s pure gold to hear that readers are so into the whole Donovan experience.

Speaking of how brutal the planet of Donovan can be, I’d like to paraphrase German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke.: “No plan survives contact with the planet Donovan.” In deciding what The Corporation’s plans would be, did you look at real-life companies in similar situations to see what they did, and how they’d fail in an interesting way? Y’know, like the East India Trading Company?

Oh, of course. I’m a card-carrying anthropologist, remember? We have an entire subfield that used to be called “Applied Anthropology” or “Development Anthropology” that focused on how dominant cultures screwed up development programs for indigenous societies. Think of simple things like building expensive laundry facilities with individual wash stalls in Mesoamerican villages. The idea was to get the women out of the river. Problem was, down at the river, polluted as it was, all the women had a grand social hour telling jokes, gossiping, exchanging the news, and visiting friends. Stuff they couldn’t do in the new laundry isolated behind all of its walls and little cubicles. So, yeah, that’s always in the back of my mind because everything I write is from an anthropological perspective.

All of the Donovan stories thus far have been sci-fi adventure stories, but with little bits of other genres thrown in for good measure. What other genres did you inject into Reckoning, and was this done intentionally or did you add something and then go, “Oh, cool, a bit of body horror”?

For Kathleen [W.’s wife and fellow writer] and me, this will be our 84th novel. We just finished up the “People” series with Lightning Shell, the final Cahokia novel. We’ve been writing thrillers like Fracture Event, The Foundation, the Wyoming Chronicles books, as well as working on Kathleen’s Rewilding Reports series. At the same time, a lot of our historical backlist is being republished, so creatively we’re pretty much all over the map.

With the Donovan books, yes, they’re science fiction, but they’ve been called “space westerns,” “horror,” “political thriller,” “hard sci-fi,” “adventure,” “colonial science fiction,” and a lot of other things. If you pinned me to the wall, I’d call this more of a political thriller than anything else. And, yeah, with Adrift I thought I was doing a pretty good job of channeling Steven King. We’ll call that my best ever horror novel.

So, are there any writers or specific stories that you think had a big influence on Reckoning but not on any of your other novels, and especially not the Donovan ones?

To tell you the truth, it’s been a couple of years since I have been able to enjoy a science fiction novel. Everything I’ve been reading lately are thrillers, Westerns, and romance novels that I’ve been asked to write quotes for. Call it required reading. Let’s just say that they’ve come from an entirely different universe…like maybe the same one Freelander was stuck in for 129 years? It’d be nice to be able to just read a book for fun again. I look forward to that one of these days.

What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; was Reckoning influenced by any of those things?

We had just finished binging on season 4 of Yellowstone. It was a constant struggle to keep Dek Taglioni from turning into Rip Wheeler. Fortunately, Port Authority doesn’t have or need a “train station.” Just have anyone you want to get rid of step outside the town gate after dark.

And how about your wife, Kathleen? We’ve talked in the past about how she gives you feedback on all of your novels, and vice versa. Did she have a particular big influence on any aspect of Reckoning?

The writer with the most influence on Reckoning was Kathleen. Keep in mind that she’s the first reader, editor, and conceptual guru for the Donovan books. When I was starting Reckoning, she handed me a list, saying, “These are the things fans are waiting for.” And reading the draft: “This meeting with Dek and Falise, you need more drama here. Give it a twist.” Or, “Kylee needs to be more ‘in your face’ in this scene with Falise.” In a very real sense, Kathleen is always my co-author. Her fingerprints are found all over my writing. Given that she’s a better writer than I am, I always listen, think, and integrate her input.

Now, the Donovan series is an ongoing affair. But a few months ago we did an interview about Lightning Shell, the final book of you and Kathleen’s North America’s Forgotten Past series, which was also ongoing until your publisher asked you to bring it to a close. First, is Reckoning the last Donovan novel?

I have no idea. You are no doubt aware that DAW Books recently sold to Astra Publishing. Kathleen and I have no clue what our relationship is going to be with Astra. We’ve been with DAW since 1987 when they bought the Spider trilogy. Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wolheim are more than our publishers; think of them as family. Under Astra’s management, we have no clue what our future with DAW Books will be. Having been privy to information that the sale was looming, Reckoning was written with the knowledge that it could be the final Donovan book. Hence, no cliff hangers. Some story lines are brought to a conclusion. Other story lines are suggestive of things that could come in the future.

That said, I would dearly love to write more Donovan novels. I’ve got a thousand ideas for more Donovan books. I could write this series for the next…twenty years? Thirty? It’s a wide-open universe. In contrast to books like Dissolution, the Donovan books are optimistic, fun, challenging, and resonate with hope. They have a fresh quality, are intellectually challenging, and filled with some of the most enchanting characters I’ve ever enjoyed spending time with.

But publishing is a business. We’ll see.

So, is there anything else people should know about Reckoning?

Books are always demanding and hard work. I wouldn’t write them if I didn’t enjoy the process, especially challenging myself with new information, or the incorporating different scientific, biological, or historical processes. When it came to Reckoning, the writing was pure fun. This one just poured out of me. I chortled, chuckled, giggled, laughed, and uttered sharp primate hoots while clicking the keys. Along with the occasional “Take that, you gnarly bastard!” or sometimes a “Gotcha!”

Call it a whole different experience than the brutal process involved in the writing of Implacable Alpha.

W. Michael Gear Reckoning Unreconciled Pariah Outpost Abandoned Adrift Donovan

Finally, if someone enjoys Reckoning and the other Donovan novels, they might want to take a break with something a little less dark. In that case, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read?

Why, Paul, that’s no challenge at all. The obvious answer is Kathleen’s Rewilding Reports series: The Ice Lion, The Ice Ghost, and the soon-to-be-released The Ice Orphan are some of the best writing she’s ever done. That scene in The Ice Lion with Lynx freezing to death in the crevasse still sends chills down my spine.

More to the point, she considers The Ice Orphan to be one of the most important books she’s ever written. Yes, it’s a rollicking good adventure with lots of action, but for Kathleen, the book’s importance lies in the exploration of consciousness. Keep in mind, her graduate work was in comparative religions, philosophy, and anthropology. She juxtaposes philosophical concepts of consciousness within a framework spun by the block universe theory, wave theory, and time space. And she does it by threading that conversation into a traditional thriller plot with heinous bad guys, a dying computer, and unrequited love.

But then Kathleen has never written anything mundane.



2 replies on “Exclusive Interview: “Reckoning” Author W. Michael Gear”

I really enjoy the Donovan series. Once I start reading it is hard to put the story down. My question? Is there going to be a book seven? I would really like that. Sandra Hunter. Thank you

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