In military sci-fi novels, we either get stories of war in space or stories about the people about to go to war in space. But in his new military sci-fi novel Sixteenth Watch (paperback, Kindle), writer and Coast Guard Lieutenant Myke Cole is presenting a very different perspective. And not just by focusing on the Coast Guard. In the following email interview, Myke explains what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why you might not want to ask him about a certain real-life space military organization.
To begin, what is Sixteenth Watch about, and when and where is it set?
Sixteenth Watch is set in the near future, during a mad-colonial scramble on the moon, due to discovery of Helium-3 deposits, which are a source of clean energy. This scramble has jacked up political tensions between the U.S. and China, who are on the brink of a war that will surely not stay on the moon.
I set out with this book to push the envelope in military SF. It’s the first military SF novel (to my knowledge) that focuses on the Coast Guard and in particular it’s Search-and-Rescue (SAR) role, instead of its warfighting role. It’s a book about an effort to deescalate and avoid a war, instead of fighting one. I am shocked and horrified by the resurgence of right-wing, pro-war, pro-violence ideology around the world, and in the U.S. in particular. I wanted to write something from a veteran’s perspective that shows another side of how the military can be used.
Sixteenth Watch is, of course, not your first novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Sixteenth Watch but nothing else you’ve written?
No. Everything I read has an influence on everything I write and I’m not able to firewall off my brain in that way. I will say that Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series and Robert Buettner’s early books, along with John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, are major factors in how I approach military SF.
The real influence, however, is my lived experience as a U.S. Coast Guard officer. With Sixteenth Watch, I truly wrote what I know.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big impact on what you wrote in Sixteenth Watch or how you wrote it?
Far too many to count. We’ve had an incredible crop of deeply-nuanced and sensitive war films lately, including those based on major books (Lone Survivor, American Sniper). There’s also Hurt Locker and Blackhawk Down. I’ve yet to have a video game truly capture the horror of counterinsurgency warfare, but This War Of Mine comes close.
As you mentioned, you were in the Coast Guard. How often, in writing Sixteenth Watch, did you find yourself having to choose being accurate and being a good storyteller?
I am technically a Lieutenant in the USCGR. The truth is that I “got out” around three years ago, when I transferred into the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR). I was later transferred to the Inactive Standby List (ISL), and am currently being boarded for separation from the service.
Ah, got it.
I miss the guard every damn day and I am immensely proud of my service, but I’m glad I’m finally going to be separated. Honor would not permit me to serve as an officer under Trump.
Which leads to my next question: How often, in doing interviews for this book, have people asked your opinion of the U.S. Space Force?
Every damn time. I try to have a sense of humor about it, but it’s always a reminder that I lost my country to one of the worst people in history, and so much of what I held dear all my life is currently drowning in a giant lake of stupid.
Now, prior to Sixteenth Watch you wrote The Sacred Throne Trilogy and six books in the Shadow Ops series. Is Sixteenth Watch the first book in a new series?
Sixteenth Watch is the first book in duology, but I’ll admit that I am way behind on writing the sequel. This is because two of my other projects — my history book The Bronze Lie and my comic series Hundred Wolves — are both demanding a ton of my attention. I also wound up starring on a TV show (Contact which aired on Discovery Channel last August), and that sucked up months of my life and I couldn’t refuse the opportunity. When a major network offers you the lead on a show, you say “yes.”
So, do you know what the other book will be called and when it’ll be out?
The sequel will be called Sixteenth Sunrise, but we haven’t decided on a series title yet. I can’t estimate a publication date, since I am so far behind on the sequel.
As you know from when you published The Sacred Throne Trilogy, some people will wait until Sixteenth Sunrise comes out before reading Sixteenth Watch, and some of them will then read them back-to-back. But do you think this is the best way to enjoy this series?
People shouldn’t wait because authors cannot make a living and cannot get new book contracts unless books sell. If you wait until all the books in a series are published to start reading, you run the risk of the series never being finished. This is because sluggish sales can cause a publisher to drop a series, and it also disincentivizes other publishers from buying further books by that author. If we don’t make enough money, we don’t write. It really is as simple as that. If you want to support me but refuse to read unfinished series, please buy my books and then leave them on the shelf unread until the whole series is published.
Now, in the previous interview we did for your Sacred Throne novella The Queen Of Crows [which you can read here], you talked about how there had been plans to turn that series into a table-top wargame, but that it wasn’t now happening. Has anything changed on that front?
Sadly no. The game deal fell apart when the CEO of the company passed away unexpectedly. I haven’t resurrected the effort right now because I’m currently underwater with so much other work.
Has there been any interest in making a game out of Sixteenth Watch? Or maybe a movie or TV show?
I personally think any of my books would be great on the screen, but the truth is they’d all be very expensive to make. I have had two shopping deals (one for an animated history series based on Legion Versus Phalanx that expired, and one currently ongoing for Gemini Cell, the first book in my Reawakening trilogy). What makes a book appeal to Hollywood scouts is a kind of alchemy I don’t understand (outside a book being a blockbuster, which Hollywood obviously loves), so I don’t worry about it. I have a book-to-film agent out there. If Hollywood wants to do something with any of my properties, I’m sure they know where to find me.
If Sixteenth Watch was to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Captain Oliver and the rest of the cast and why them?
In my head, Jane Oliver was always played by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager). Not only is she a great screen actor, she’s also an amazing audio actor as well (she narrates books). Her voice was Oliver’s voice in my head from the moment I conceived of the book.
Finally, if someone enjoys Sixteenth Watch, which of your other novels would you suggest they read and why that one?
If you liked Sixteenth Watch, I’d suggest you give my Sacred Throne trilogy a shot, starting with The Armored Saint. While this may seem odd since they’re medieval fantasy books, they are really about the same thing at their heart: love, family, and how having to lead in a time of war strains those things.