Exclusive Interview: “Redspace Rising” Author Brian Trent
In our previous interview about his 2018 novel Ten Thousand Thunders, writer Brian Trent mentioned how history — sparked by a trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum Of Art — prompted him to write that far-future sci-fi thriller. Now Trent, history, and the fictional universe of Thunders are all back for the military sci-fi novel Redspace Rising (hardcover, paperback, Kindle). But as he explains in the following email interview about it, while Rising follows Thunders, it’s not a sequel.
To open, what is Redspace Rising about, and when and where does it take place?
Redspace Rising is set a thousand years from now, in the aftermath of an especially brutal civil war on Mars. Harris Alexander Pope is a soldier who delivered the knock-out blow that ended the war. He now looks forward to the peace.
When he learns that several high-ranking war criminals have escaped justice, however, he is reluctantly pulled back into action. The story begins on Mars, but turns into an interplanetary pursuit…and is made more challenging by the fact that people in this future can upload their minds and download into any body they wish (and even multiple bodies).
As Harris links up with other survivors of the war who are eager for their own brand of vengeance, he begins to suspect a darker truth: maybe what he remembers about the war isn’t what happened at all.
Redspace Rising is a tale of war, propaganda, and identity in deadly futuristic landscape.
Where did you get the idea for Redspace Rising, what inspired it?
Years back, I read how numerous Nazi war criminals fled Nuremberg justice and went into hiding. British agents were sent to track them down.
That kicked off the idea for this book. The novel’s antagonists are a sadistic political regime known as the Partisans. Our main character, Harris, is tasked with hunting down the worst of the bunch who have escaped the post-war trials.
Mars itself had several inspirations. I didn’t want to do the “dry red desert” thing that has been a staple of Martian stories. Since this is set a thousand years from now, and involves some extraordinary new technologies (including an aurora belt that gives Mars a magnetosphere again), the planet is much more habitable. There are canals. There are cyanobacterial grids. Cities are quick-printed. People wear dust-masks (I wrote this before COVID). The atmosphere has been thickened. There’s some deliberate homage to Bradbury and Burroughs and the pulps in there, too. The Mars of my novel is fiercely independent, and fairly decadent (though the people who live there don’t think so).
Lastly, though Redspace Rising is not a cyberpunk novel, it does share a specific theme with cyberpunk: better technology does not make us better people. The Internet is certainly proof of that today.
Funny, I didn’t think Redspace Rising sounded like it was a cyberpunk sci-fi novel; it sounded to me like more of a military science fiction story.
Yes, that’s accurate. There’s a fair bit of espionage and mystery sprinkled in, though it is chiefly a military sci-fi novel. Technology has gotten so advanced that it has completely altered what is possible, and the competition between various factions hinges largely on their own unique technological developments. Throughout the course of the book, Harris fills the role of soldier, spy, and assassin.
As with any war story, there is a lot of cultural exploration as well. Earth, Mars, and the deepworlds (the Jovian and Saturnian groups) are distinct cultural identities. Mars itself is home to several factions whose conflicting ideologies are a main reason the planet collapsed into civil war to begin with.
Redspace Rising is your fourth novel after Ten Thousand Thunders and the two books in your Rahotep series, Rahotep and The God And The Gate. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Redspace Rising but not on anything else you’ve written?
Ten Thousand Thunders owed to a stone soup of inspirations, and that’s true here too. The Martian Chronicles and the John Carter books had some aesthetic impact on Redspace Rising. Armor by John Steakley was an important influence. Even Neuromancer — though not a military book — was helpful in the way it showed the integration of technology into everyday life; that book’s characters Molly and Case are sometimes neuro-linked as they go about their operations.
One of my favorite sci-fi novels is still The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It’s a completely different story than mine, but the pacing of that book was in the back of my mind while I wrote. And though it was written in the ’50s, it took the time to show that the future will be built of many cultures…not just a mono-culture or a Red-vs-Blue dynamic.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?
I think it’s impossible not to be influenced to an extent by the ecosystem of Martian stories in visual media. The Martian, Total Recall, Robin Crusoe On Mars…they all contribute to our pop-culture conceptions.
I know this is going to sound strange, but one of the inspirations was to avoid similarities to what I’d seen elsewhere. This is especially true of how battle is typically depicted in a lot of sci-fi. I love Star Trek, but the way military capabilities are shown in that universe is flat-out absurd. The Enterprise’s security staff is so ineffective that they could be cut down by today’s mall cops. Klingon ground-forces wouldn’t last an afternoon against a modern army. Think of how jaw-droppingly ineffective a phaser is when compared to, say, an M4 carbine. Think of the lack of equipment that the mortal races of Star Trek bring to bear in a fight. We rarely see armor that matters. Where is the neuro-linked satellite overlay? The variety of weapons beyond a phaser or bat’leth? The A.I.-assist? The tissue-regenerative capabilities — especially since we once saw Doctor McCoy hand a pill to a hospital patient and grow her a new kidney on the spot?
The same applies to Star Wars; the stormtroopers could sure benefit from some kind of targeting system.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, video games do a better job of this. In a series like Halo, your standard loadout involves a variety of weapons. In XCOM, your strike team is made of specialists like snipers, assault, and support. Even Fallout’s VATS system at least addresses the notion of technology giving you a tactical edge.
In Redspace Rising, I wanted to depict a military that makes extensive use of high-tech integration. Because that’s how it will be.
When Harris goes into combat, he’s a wrecking ball. His enemies are equally dangerous. As he travels to different worlds, he encounters tech that he’s unfamiliar with — there’s no fast-than-light travel in my universe, so humanity is increasingly scattered and separate. Evolution happens fastest in isolated populations…and this is especially true of technological evolution. Future combatants have a tremendous menu of options at their disposal, including built-in A.I.s that can adjust to changing combat conditions.
Yet, I want to emphasize that the novel is about people. About human nature. The gizmos serve a utilitarian purpose, sure, but Redspace Rising is primarily an examination of conflict in and around human nature. There’s the war itself as the overt conflict. Harris’ inner conflict. And the larger interplanetary drama of which everything that Harris is fighting for is merely a blip in the margins, despite how personal it is to him and those he fights for.
Along with novels, you also write poetry. How do you think writing poetry — and, I assume reading it — may have influenced Redspace Rising?
Yes, there’s a lot of literary and poetic influence on the book. For example, one of the most popular forms of transportation on Mars are sandships. Each vessel is named after a Ray Bradbury story: there’s a Dandelion Wine, a Toynbee Convector, an October Country, etc. Partly this is tribute to Bradbury’s Martian tales. Partly it’s because of the poetic sensibilities of his style, which I’ve always admired.
In creating the dominant culture of Mars, I was inspired a lot by the Romantic poets. Mars — at least in the beginning — is considered a wild and untamed frontier. There’s a worship of nature. There’s a rejection of the rigid structures and attitudes of Earth. That puts it firmly in the wheelhouse of the Romantics and their rejection of neoclassical themes. Lord Byron (who incidentally provides the opening quote for Ten Thousand Thunders) was an influence. Gethin Bryce is essentially a Byronic character. Percy Shelley was influential as well, and more than a few times I thought of “Ozymandias” while writing this…though to say more would spoil things.
And the transcendentalists were an influence, too. Walden is a big influence, and is depicted as a cultural touchstone for the people of Mars (who regularly quote from it).
There’s also Harris Alexander Pope’s name — you’ve got a poet’s name right in there, as well as a famous military conqueror. This isn’t accidental.
Now, my understanding is that while Redspace Rising is a stand-alone novel, it’s also connected to Ten Thousand Thunders. How so?
Redspace Rising is sequentially the next book in the series. Reading it stand-alone is perfectly okay, because it has its own cast of main characters. The story is contained. It follows the aftermath of a war, and how war continues through the so-called “peace.”
At the same time, it takes place a couple decades after Ten Thousand Thunders. The political fallout from that book gives rise to the events of Redspace Rising. The two main characters (Gethin and Celeste) are in this sequel, in significant though supporting roles.
Certain organizations introduced in the last book are major players here, too. The ruling body of the solar system is still the InterPlanetary Council (IPC). There’s still a political group known as the Frontierists who advocate for extrasolar colonization and throwing off the IPC yoke.
While people can read Redspace Rising without having read Ten Thousand Thunders, what will someone get out of reading Readspace after Thunders that they won’t if they start with Rising?
While it isn’t necessary to have read Ten Thousand Thunders, those who have will gain a deeper insight into some of the characters and their backgrounds. For example, the two main characters from Ten Thousand Thunders are Gethin Bryce and Celeste Segarra. They reappear here in supporting roles. Reference is made to their mutual history, which readers of the first book will have experienced first-hand. Their former employers also reappear: Gethin used to work for the IPC, and Celeste used to work for a weapons-dealer named Quinn. They’re back.
There are also minor things that readers of the previous book will pick up on. At one point, the characters see the beautiful and lush garden of Hanmura Industries. Hanmura himself isn’t around anymore — he committed triple-suicide in the last book. Again, it doesn’t matter to new readers, but details like that are there anyway.
In the same way, readers of my short stories will see familiar faces. For example, I have a story on Escape Pod right now called “An Incident On Ishtar.” It’s set on Venus, and one of the characters is Umerah Javed. Well, she plays a massive role in Redspace Rising. At one point in the book, she mentions that she “used to work on Venus, but had to leave.” It’s only a brief conversation, but readers of “An Incident On Ishtar” will know why she was on Venus and why she had to leave.
It’s not required at all, but it’s there just the same.
Earlier I asked if Redspace Rising had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to turn things around, if I may, and ask if you think Redspace Rising could work as a movie, show, or game?
I certainly think Redspace Rising would work either as a series or game. As for a film, I don’t think the story could be easily compressed into a two-hour offering; then again, there are directors who really get sci-fi (Denis Villeneuve jumps to mind), so who knows?
A TV series would be better because there’s a lot going on: character relationships and dynamics, the evolving political landscape, and the cat-and-mouse chase between hunted and hunter. Redspace Rising also takes place over a large span of time. A series could develop that. Ease into the transitions.
And of course, Redspace Rising could work as the basis for a game. Yes, there’s lots of action, but the characters (and how they grow and change as a result of events) is pivotal. Anyone who enjoyed the Mass Effect series, or The Witcher, has experienced the way modern games can, in the right hands, showcase exquisite character development against fully developed worlds. Since my book showcases a number of settings (Mars at different time periods, offworld locations, etc.) it offers the reader / viewer / player a lot of variety, too.
So, if someone wanted to adapt Redspace Rising into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Harris and the other main characters, and why them?
I was watching The Punisher TV show recently, and I thought that Amber Rose Revah, who plays Dinah Madani, would make a pitch-perfect casting as Umerah Javed. She exudes energy, resourcefulness, and a can-do intensity that absolutely work for Umerah.
I mentioned in our Ten Thousand Thunders interview that Zoe Saldana might make a good Celeste Segarra. I still stand by that.
I honestly don’t know who I’d cast as Harris Alexander Pope. Actually, I’d be very interested to hear readers suggest an actor.
And you kind of already answered this, but if someone wanted to adapt Redspace Rising into a game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I’d want a game based on the book to be a hybrid of RPG and FPS. Deus Ex Human Revolution comes to mind, and I’d trust Eidos Montreal with that. And BioWare remains a strong choice as well.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Redspace Rising?
There’s a lot I could say, but I’ll let the book speak for itself.
Finally, if someone enjoys Redspace Rising, what similar kind of sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I continue to recommend The Stars My Destination to readers. John Steakley’s Armor is a rewarding read as well, and in a similar vein. And for those who haven’t read it yet, William Gibson’s Neuromancer is as dark and entrancing an odyssey as ever.