Exclusive Interview: “Summer’s End” Author John Van Stry


In prepping questions for writer John Van Stry about his hard science fiction novel Summer’s End (paperback, Kindle), I had to fight the urge to make a joke about its title making it sound like a teenage sex comedy from the ’80s. And then, in his first answer, he had to go and say it’s about, “…a young man’s journey out into the world.” But don’t worry, sci-fi fans, as Van Stray goes on to say, Summer’s End is very much a space-bound action / adventure story.

John Van Stry Summer's End

To start, what is Summer’s End about, and when and where does it take place?

I guess you could say that Summer’s End is about a young man’s journey out into the world. His growing up and becoming an adult, about him having to face life on his own while learning how to make his way in it.

As for when and where it takes place, it’s several hundred years in the future from now, and it starts on Earth, but mostly it takes place in our solar system. Faster Than Light (FTL) drive has still not been discovered, but gravity is now well known and gravity drives do exist. So the solar system has been and still is being, colonized.

Where did you get the idea for Summer’s End, what inspired it?

I’d been asked to do a sci-fi story, which I was very much interested in doing, as I started out as a sci-fi writer before veering off into fantasy. I wanted to do a near-space (within the solar system) type of hard sci-fi story, and was kicking the idea around with a couple of my Patrons on Patreon, and the idea of a solar system that was heavily settled came up, and I decided to run with it.

As for what inspired it, well I think Robert Heinlein’s space stories, along with a combination of Zelazny’s “characters with a dubious background” theme that he often used. The whole reason I wrote this particular novel in first person is completely due to Zelazny’s wonderful mastership of that style.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but in Summer’s End, the main character, Dave, is…let’s just say he’s trying really hard to avoid his stepdad, who is a Senator on Earth. Is there a reason you made Dave’s stepdad a politician as opposed to a powerful businessman or an officer in the military?

Yes. A little background first: Earth has one government, and the Earth Gov’s ruling body is comprised of Senators. The system is highly corrupt, and all of the Senators are more or less “owned” by one of the many elite families, who are the incredibly wealthy families / dynasties, and who are the ones who actually own everything and run everything on Earth.

Now I wanted his step-father to be powerful, but I didn’t want him to be “at the top of the food chain” as it were. I wanted him to be answerable to somebody else. Someone who was a more powerful and tough figure. I wanted him to be more of a political creature than the kind of guy who actually is large and in charge. Which we see play out later in the story.

In the same vein, is there any significance to him being Dave’s stepdad and not his stepmom? Or, for that matter, his real mom or dad?

Again, it has to do with story. The idea of a woman abandoning her child is a much more shaking and impactful one than the idea of a man just walking away from his family. It also sets the tone for David’s own feelings about his mother and the elites that run the world. That sense of abandonment, to realize that you meant so little to someone who has so much, even after all that they did to have you.

It’s a reflection on his mother’s character, as well as the elites in that world.

Dave can’t remember his mother, and has never met his stepfather. He doubts his mother even remembers him, and was surprised to find out his stepfather had even discovered he existed.

I had to have that “breaking of family” so later on, when Dave has to do things for his stepbrother, you understand why he’s become so devoted to the idea of family.

Summer’s End sounds like it’s a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?

It’s definitely hard sci-fi. I would describe the character as a Heinlein type character in that he’s driven, self-sufficient, and has a certain amount of experience beyond what his college taught him. We learn the reasons why he has that experience as the story progresses. But all of the science in the book — well except for the way the gravity drive works; I based that on the theories behind electromotive force — is correct. I’m an engineer by training and I spent a fair bit of time on the math.

So I’m a bit hesitant to call it space opera as there’s little to no “‘hand-wavium” going on in the story. A lot of the things Dave runs into, during the course of the story, are things that are actually modeled on things that have happened in human history. They’re just being done with technology now in some cases.

I would describe it as an action and adventure novel, and even as a men’s adventure novel. While I’m sure a great many women will also enjoy this book, I do tend to target male readers more, as there’s not a lot of people who write for men nowadays. My targeting what has become a niche market to many has been a large part of my success. As I’ve discovered that about half of my readers are women, apparently these kinds of stories have an audience a lot larger than I’d first realized.

Now, Summer’s End is not your first novel. You’ve got the Portals Of Infinity series, the Children Of Steel novels, and so on. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Summer’s End but not on any of your other books?

No, not really. The Children Of Steel universe was heavily influenced by Cordwainer Smith, as well as Robert Heinlein. The Portals Of Infinity series was influenced by Roger Zelazny a bit, but I got the idea from thinking about the Carlos Castaneda and his Teachings Of Don Juan series, which I’ve actually never read. Someone once told me about that series when I was a teenager in school, and they were so completely captivated by it, that I used some of what I believed to have created that captivation to create the Portals Of Infinity series.

You know, now that I think about it, I think Allen Steele’s near-space science fiction books probably were a bit of an influence, as he did such a great job writing wonderful science fiction stories that took place in our own solar system.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Was Summer’s End influenced by any of those things?

None that I can remember. I don’t watch much in the way of TV shows anymore and with the whole Covid thing, I wasn’t getting out to see any movies.

Some sci-fi novels are stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of a series. What is Summer’s End?

I sort of wrote Summer’s End “on spec.” I’d been talking to [Baen’s owner / publisher] Toni Weisskopf about it, and she really was very interested in me doing a hard science fiction type story. Honestly, at the time I was looking for an excuse to be able to write one again, because I enjoy it so much. So when I wrote it, I left room for a sequel, but I wanted to be sure it was all nice and neatly wrapped up on Dave’s character arc.

I mean I was a little worried about if they’d like it or not, I’ve never sold a book to a traditional book publisher before. Also, I’ve had an incredibly large amount of success as an indie author, and that’s what I do for a living now. So technically I was taking time out from what was paying my bills to work on something with a much longer turn around to market. However, several of my friends write for Baen, and Toni’s a great woman, so the idea of being able to write for her was a very appealing one.

You have no idea how happy I was to hear from her that she’d enjoyed it.

So, what’s the plan moving forward?

I’ve actually just started work on a sequel. I’d like to have it wrapped up here in a few weeks (I’m just coming off of a vacation). The working title is The Fear, but I have to see how my editors feel about that, because it makes it sound like a horror story, which of course it isn’t.

As to how many books there will be about Dave, well, at least one more, obviously. We’ll see after that.

Earlier I asked if Summer’s End had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around and ask if you think Summer’s End could work as a movie, show, or game?

I think it could very easily work as a movie, it would require minimal specialty sets, and very little in the way of CGI. I’ve actually had a work considered for a movie adaptation in the past and so I’ve now got a pretty good grasp on the technical aspects these days.

As for a show? Easily. It’s a huge universe that I created and a lot of stories could be written in it.

I don’t think it would work as a game. You could do an MMORPG world with it, but there’s already several of those out there, so I don’t think it has anything to set it apart.

So if someone wanted to adapt Summer’s End into a movie or show, who would you want them to cast as Dave and the other main characters and why them?

Honestly, I haven’t a clue. I don’t follow actors anymore and I have no idea who’s popular these days.

John Van Stry Summer's End

Finally, if someone enjoys Summer’s End, which of your other novels would you suggest they read and why that one?

This is a tough one to answer, as I tend to feel that if you liked one of my books, you’ll probably like all of them. I suspect a lot of authors feel that way to be honest. But if you’re looking for science fiction, folks might wish to take a look at Children Of Steel. Understand however that I wrote that almost twenty years ago — it was the first novel I ever wrote. I put it up for sale in 2011, and was surprised at just how well it was received.

There’s also Days Of Future Past, which is a trilogy that mixes science fiction with fantasy, and a touch of post-apocalypse — and no, I didn’t steal the name from the comic book (which I was unaware of at the time). I did however steal it from the same place they stole it from.

Last of all, I also write under a pen name, which isn’t hard to figure out if you go to my website. The pen name exists for “brand separation,” as the stories there are a little different from what I write under my own name i.e. they’re a little bit spicy in parts. However, I have an eighteen book series under that name, now complete, that has sold over a million copies at this point, and a couple of other stories that are also doing quite well for me.



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