Exclusive Interview: “Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos” Author Jane Killick


In the board game Terraforming Mars, you have to turn the red planet into a place humans can live, and comfortably. The kicker being that every turn isn’t a new minute, hour, or day, it’s a generation. But while this works great for a game, it makes telling a compelling story kind of tricky. Which is why, in her connected hard sci-fi adventure novel, Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos (paperback, Kindle), writer Jane Killick eschews this aspect of the game. In the following email interview about the novel, she explains why she made the time frame change, as well as what else inspired and influenced this story.

Jane Killick Terraforming Mars In The Shadow Of Deimos

Let’s start with some background: What is the game Terraforming Mars about, and when and where on Mars does it take place?

Terraforming Mars is a strategy board game in which the players transform the planet from a barren landscape into somewhere where humans can live, as they take actions which will increase the oxygen level, the temperature, and the commercial viability of a colony on Mars. So, for example, pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to create a global warming effect and mining titanium for construction and export. Players are working in both a collaborative and a competitive race. So, if one player crashes an asteroid into Mars, it will increase the temperature of the planet which benefits everyone, but equally they could crash the asteroid into someone else’s forest and damage their opponent’s position.

The game board covers the part of Mars called the Tharsis Region, an area of the planet around the equator which is comparatively warmer and more habitable than, say, the polar regions.

And then what is Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos about, plot-wise?

I have a summary on my website which, I think, sums it up:

Luka, a migrant worker, witnesses a wayward asteroid crash into a research center, killing the lone technician inside. Promoted to take the technician’s place, Luka discovers the man’s secret diaries and becomes drawn into a world of treachery and murder.

Julie, of the United Nations Mars Initiative, unearths evidence proving the asteroid disaster was deliberate sabotage. But when powerful people work to keep her silent, Julie’s idealized vision of humanity’s future crumbles in the face of bribery and corruption.

Who came up with the original idea for Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos?

The only thing which isn’t mine is the title. The publisher came up with that one and so I had to make sure I mentioned Deimos (one of Mars’s moons) a bit more than I had been planning to.

I borrowed the game from a friend and laid out everything on the dining table: the board, the cards, everything. I went through all of them looking for things which were interesting and would spark a story idea in my head. There are several events where players can crash an asteroid into Mars, and this immediately stood out as something dramatic I could write about. I then pulled in other elements such as Noctis City and made Luka part of the construction crew for that city.

One of the characteristics of the game is it takes place across multiple generations and hundreds of years. So when you play the game, each round is a new generation where the players build a city or plant a forest or release greenhouse gases. When you’re telling a story that involves human beings, you can’t follow them across hundreds of years without them dying and being replaced by new characters every chapter. Therefore, the novel has to be a snapshot in time within one generation — one round of the game — against the backdrop of terraforming projects.

What not only made you want to write it, but also made you think you’d be a good person to write it?

Aconyte Books had been sending me details of their writing opportunities for a little while and nothing had really stood out until Terraforming Mars. I have a science fiction background, I’ve always loved the genre, and I knew I could really study the game and learn about it before writing a story. I had a video chat with the publisher and the editor, and the sort of things they were saying they wanted to do were exactly the sort of things I was telling them I wanted to do, so it seemed a good fit.

So is there a reason why it’s set in 2316 as opposed to 2816 or 12316?

The background to the game is that, in 2315, the world government on Earth announces the launch of a project to terraform Mars. They invite corporations to be part of that project with funding from a universal tax. I wanted the first book to be set early on in this terraforming journey to reflect the situation for players at the beginning of the game.

And is there also a reason why you have a character working for the United Nations as opposed to NASA or the U.S. military or a private company run by some billionaire weirdo?

In the game, players take the position of one of a selection of corporations and organizations working on Mars. Luka works for the ThorGate corporation and I can’t actually remember why I picked that one. I’m sure there was a reason, but I have no idea what it was!

Julie is the head of the United Nations Mars Initiative. This organization was already on Mars carrying out projects on behalf of the world government before the terraforming announcement. When other corporations are invited to take part, UNMI suddenly has a lot of competition. I was interested in portraying a character who had gone from effectively being in charge to having her authority downgraded and somewhat overshadowed by the other players on the Martian stage.

One of the other corporations, PhoboLog, acquired several national space programs, and I assume NASA to have been one of them. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a “billionaire weirdo,” you’ll find that the multi-billionaire CEO of CrediCor corporation makes an appearance. Bard Hunter is the only character name mentioned in the entire game, so I knew he had to feature.

Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos sounds like it’s a sci-fi adventure story. Is that how you’d describe it?

Yeah, that basically describes it, although it’s more hard sci-fi than a Star Wars-style space fantasy. It’s an adventure story set on Mars in the early days of terraforming the planet, so there’s a sense of realism in the story and definitely no aliens, laser guns or time travel. There’s also a death and an investigation, so there are overtones of murder mystery as well as thriller and so forth.

Prior to writing Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos you wrote three books in your Freelancer series and four in your Perceiver series. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Shadow Of Deimos but not on anything else you’ve written?

I wrote a short story almost ten years ago set on Mars, and I still vividly remember a scene from that where a man on the surface of the planet hallucinates images of his dead family as he begins to run low on oxygen. The image had stuck with me and became the inspiration for Luka who comes to Mars looking for a new life away from Earth where his family was killed. I recreated a version of the hallucination scene in Deimos and it’s still my favorite scene from the book.

People who know the game will probably know that the creators of it, FryxGames, are huge fans of a series of books by Kim Stanley Robinson about terraforming Mars: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. I had read Red Mars when it originally came out, and interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson for Starburst magazine, so I was familiar with it. However, I didn’t want to be overly influenced by his work, so I made a point of not re-reading it. The only thing I did was make sure I didn’t accidentally include any plot elements from his trilogy and then I went along my own path. Of course, I’ve read a lot of science fiction and anything you encounter will influence you to some degree, but there was nothing specific. I concentrated more on immersing myself in the game.

How about non-literary influences; was Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

When I was coming up with ideas for the novel, I sat down and watched a few films and TV shows set on Mars. The Martian, in particular is such a great film and I spent a very pleasant afternoon watching that and pretending that I was working. But I don’t think at the end of the day any those things really influenced me. It was more to get a feeling of being on Mars while my brain was coming up with the story.

The problem will all of these things is they have to be filmed on Earth and they gloss over some of the stuff which is difficult to portray, like Mars gravity being about a third of Earth’s and so on. I also watched The Expanse, as the show was mentioned in my chat with the publisher. I enjoyed it and it was good to pretend that I was working while watching telly, but I don’t think those things really had a great influence on what I was writing.

You’ve talked a lot about how connected In The Shadow Of Deimos is to the game. What do you think fans of Terraforming Mars will get out of reading In The Shadow Of Deimos, and do you think people unfamiliar with the game will enjoy it as well?

You absolutely don’t need to know anything about the game to read the novel. I sent my first draft to a friend who reads all of my books, she’s never played the game and she really enjoyed it. Everything you need to know about the story is in the book. The things that a gamer will see are things like when Luka arrives to build Noctis City people will remember that Noctis City has a place on the game board and is a card in the game. When Bard Hunter turns up, players may remember he is mentioned on the card for the CrediCor corporation. In some places, I was able to go into more depth than the game. The Noctis City card, for example, has a description, “where the mist is grey” and I was able to expand on that by researching how mists form on this part of Mars. If you’ve played that card in the game, it will deepen the background for you. If you haven’t played the game, it depicts a wonderous Martian phenomena which is part of the backdrop to the story.

As I mentioned earlier, you previously wrote multiple novels in your Freelancer and Perceiver series. Is Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos the beginning of a series as well?

I can tell you that I’ve started coming up with ideas for a second Terraforming Mars novel, I’ve sent them off and the publisher is looking at them at the moment. But I haven’t signed a contract yet, so anything could happen at this point.

But as I mentioned earlier, Terraforming Mars takes place across multiple generations over hundreds of years so it’s not possible to do a series in the same way you might with, say, Harry Potter. With each book, you have a new set of characters in a new situation and a new story. The thing that links them is the story of terraforming Mars. So there’s no need to wait to see if more books are coming out, each one will stand alone. You could even pick up the third book (if there is one!) and read it without having read the first two.

Jane Killick Terraforming Mars In The Shadow Of Deimos

Finally, if someone enjoys Terraforming Mars: In The Shadow Of Deimos, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?

It depends what sort of reader you are. The Freelancer trilogy is a space adventure with a romantic element in that so it’s quite different to Terraforming Mars. The Perceiver series is about teenagers with special powers set in a near future, so that’s quite different too. If you want to check them out, you can read the first book of either series for free by downloading it via my website.



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