As someone who lives near where the sinkhole opens in the new time travel sci-fi TV show La Brea (as well as where everyone’s on a paleo diet), I’ve been a little on edge lately when it comes to large holes and people visiting the Paleolithic era. But since they say you should face your fears, I decided I would do the following email interview with writer Michael Z. Williamson about his time travel military sci-fi novel That Was Now, This Is Then (hardcover, Kindle), the sequel to 2015’s A Long Time Until Now.
I’d like to start with some background. What was A Long Time Until Now about, and when and where did it take place?
Ten U.S. military personnel caught in a discontinuity, and winding up in the Upper Paleolithic in Central Asia, with only the contents of two trucks to survive with.
And then what is That Was Now, This Is Then about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to A Long Time Until Now?
After being located and returned home by a future culture, some of them are called back to assist in recovering another element.
Where did you get the original idea for That Was Now, This Is Then?
I actually don’t remember the actual chain of events. I come up with ideas and form scenes, and then come up with a plot to work around them. In this case, I think I was playing off a previous work, Contact With Chaos, which featured a very sophisticated stone age culture, and wondered how hard it would be to adapt back.
When in relation to writing A Long Time Until Now did you come up with the idea for That Was Now, This Is Then?
It’s implied from the first novel that there are other discontinuities caused by ongoing time travel experiments, and they’re hinted at in the conclusion. So this was already an option.
It sounds like That Was Now, This Is Then is a military sci-fi time travel story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I would describe it as military or hard sci-fi. It’s also been filed under alternate history, but it’s not really alternate. I’m not sure if there’s a name for the genre of fiction set in various interpretations of the paleolithic.
So are there any writers who had a big influence on That Was Now, This Is Then but not on A Long Time Until Now? Or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
Lots of writers influenced my style. I don’t think there were any specific influences for this story.
What about non-literary influences; was That Was Now, This Is Then influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because it reminds me of that show La Brea, and that movie The Final Countdown.
The Final Countdown. A very good movie that didn’t do well because everyone wanted to see them splash the Japanese fleet. The technical problem of course, even without historical interference, is that even if the carrier can run for years on its nuclear reactor, the aircraft need jet fuel and cannon shells, very hard to replace, and missiles, impossible to replace with the technology of the era. Once the CIWS runs out of ammo, the carrier is more easily sunk than its historical counterparts, especially without support ships. So that element (limited resources) is relevant.
And La Brea?
I vaguely heard about that, I think. I don’t watch TV.
As we’ve been discussing, That Was Now, This Is Then is the sequel to A Long Time Until Now. Do the two of them form a duology, are they the first two books in a trilogy or more, is this an ongoing thing…?
I have notes for a third that should be a lot more fun.
So, what can you tell us about your plans going forward with these books?
Well, if you had plenty of money and a time machine, what would you do? And what would someone with different morals do?
I’d go see Led Zeppelin in 1969, Black Sabbath in 1969, Miles Davis in 1969… But seriously, what is the plan for this series?
I plan to stop at three. I like exploring options from a root story, but I don’t like beating them to death. But if I get enough money, I’ll find a way to justify it.
Now, you and I have talked before about the short story collections Freehold: Resistance [which you can read here] and Freehold: Defiance [which you can read here]. Has there been any thought to do something similar with this series?
Not really. The scope of the events is rather tight compared to an entire war.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and games that influenced That Was Now, This Is Then. But to flip things around, do you think it — and, of course, A Long Time Until Now — could work as a series of movies or a TV show or a game?
I did have an initial query from a production company, but they never followed up.
If they had, who would you want them to cast as Captain Elliott and the other main characters?
Hmm. Hard to say. As I said, I don’t watch or own a TV, and don’t really watch that many movies. Nor would the producers be likely to ask me.
Finally, if someone enjoys reading That Was Now, This Is Then, which of your other books would you suggest they check out next?
It doesn’t relate directly to any of the other books, though there is a similar character gestalt in Better To Beg Forgiveness…