Towards the end of the following email interview about his military sci-fi space opera novel The Deep Man (paperback, Kindle), writer Michael Mersault says, “Science fiction should broaden the reader’s view of the world and the future, not cause it to narrow.” A point he actually reinforced earlier by talking about the deep thoughts and big picture implications of his book.
Let’s start with a plot summary. What is The Deep Man about, and when and where does it take place?
The Deep Man is a sort of Hero’s Journey set in the Galactic Imperium Of The Myriad Worlds, which is located just a little to the right of Betelgeuse…or maybe a little to the left. Somewhere over there. Either way, our dear Earth is nowhere in the equation. The year is 6361, and it’s a tough one. After centuries of peace, an emperor is assassinated, a new one takes the throne, war breaks out, and our protagonist, Saef takes command of Tanager, the smallest frigate in the Imperial Fleet. Armed with his Family’s unique martial skills and accompanied by the mysterious Inga, Saef takes Tanager into battle, only to find the war is something quite different than anyone would believe.
Where did you originally get the idea for The Deep Man, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote this story?
The first thought that spawned The Deep Man was a rather dry pondering about a theoretical two-tier elective social structure. What would it look like if people could choose total liberty coupled with total accountability, or choose complete social welfare coupled with total dependency? Separately, I wondered how unfashionable but vital traits might be conserved despite prosperous, decadent centuries. Those two thoughts created the Myriad Worlds and the House of Sinclair-Maru, respectively. The story of The Deep Man then naturally grew out of the question: What would it look like when the centuries of peace suddenly ended?
And is there a reason why you made the galactic government a monarchy with an honor code as opposed to, say, a military dictatorship with an honor code or a democracy in a society where there’s an honor code?
Monarchy versus Republic or Dictatorship, hmmm? A key feature of the Myriad Worlds is the imperium’s antiquity. The whole premise of the story demands centuries of governmental continuity, and in all human experience centuries of continuity only arrive with semi feudal states. It also seems a society bent on surviving their next encounter with an alien species would best maintain a warlike sharpness within a feudal system Beyond all that, monarchies provide so much more human color, while democracies inevitably produce gray, soulless bureaucracies, just like Alexis de Tocqueville warned about so long ago. A democracy gone wrong gives us Orwell’s 1984, in all its drab horror. A monarchy gone wrong gives us Caligula, who converts his enemies into charming wall decor and makes his horse a senator. I spent some lovely years living under monarchies, too, so perhaps I’m prejudiced. Oh, and isn’t a military dictatorship that lasts centuries just called a monarchy? Thoughts to ponder, I’m sure.
It sounds like The Deep Man is a mix of space fantasy and sci-fi space opera. Is this how you’d describe it?
On the genre questions, Paul, I may not be the best judge. I don’t keep up with the current trends, but I didn’t think The Deep Man veered into true space fantasy. To my mind, The Deep Man is a combination of military sci-fi and space opera. There are aliens and faster-than-light travel, but as far as I know, the only truly fantastic item in the story is suggesting there are such things as gravitons. It seemed an elegant means for artificial gravity, even though “gravity particles” might well be one step away from fire-breathing dragons in terms of realism.
The Deep Man is your first novel. But I’m betting it’s not the only thing you’ve written. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Deep Man but not on anything else you’ve written?
Are there any specific books or authors that influenced The Deep Man? Yes, certainly. At least one sci-fi book I read many years ago sparked my thoughts about an elective two-tier society. It’s ridiculous to admit that for years I’ve wondered which author and what book that was. In my defense, I haunted book shops as a young fellow and bought used sci-fi novels, often published in the 1950s or so. I recall reading a fair amount of Brian Aldiss, Fred Saberhagen, and Robert Heinlein, and I’m sure they all have cast some seasoning within the pages of The Deep Man. One of those fellows may even have written the particular book I forgot.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games; did any of those have an influence on The Deep Man?
For whatever reason, I’m not a fan of most modern films, and never watch television dramas, so those sources have little impact on me. There is, or was, an online game, called Eve, that influenced my view of scale between classes of spacecraft. Although I never actually played the game, their graphical depiction of such a continuum of vessels affected me.
Science fantasy novels and sci-fi space operas are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is The Deep Man?
From the day I scribbled down the first sentence of The Deep Man, I visualized a trilogy, simply because the story arc seemed like it would fit well in three or four comfortable volumes. So far, nothing in my experience has changed my view of this.
Does this series have a name?
If the three or four books I have planned for Saef and Inga have received a formal name of some kind, no one has mentioned it to me.
So do you know yet what the other books are going to be called and when they’ll be out?
Paul, the current working titles for the next two books are (in order), The Silent Hand and The Presence Malign. As yet it is not at all clear when they will be released. Further bulletins as events warrant.
Upon hearing that The Deep Man is the first book in a trilogy or quadrilogy, some people will decide to wait until they all come out before reading any of them, and some will further decide to read them back-to-back. Do you think people should wait?
It seems to me that if I’ve done my job properly, one could read the books in succession or a year apart without great difference. Doesn’t it seem that book series focusing primarily upon amazing scenarios demands a fresh read-through for the reader to immerse, whereas a book series driven by personal connections to the characters welcomes the reader back into the familiar embrace? Or is that just me? I think Saef, Inga and the others will make a memorable impression…if I did my part correctly, and that will age well.
Earlier you mentioned that you don’t watch modern movies or TV, but you were aware of the video game Eve. So this might be a moot question, but do you think The Deep Man could work as a movie, show, or game?
It seems like the best films take sympathetic characters and stick them in remarkable circumstances. By that measure it seems The Deep Man could make an enjoyable film, with the cliffhanger aspects as mere icing on the cake.
Beyond a film, the blend of technology and the setting of The Deep Man might form the basis of an interesting role-playing game, I think.
And this might also be moot, but if someone wanted to adapt The Deep Man into a movie, who would you want them to cast as Saef, Inga, etc.?
As I mentioned a moment ago, Paul, I don’t really follow modern film or television much, so my ability to sift the firmament of actors may be laughable. Is Ryan Gosling a little long in the tooth for Saef? Then how about Tom Holland for Saef. And for Inga, I could see Saorise Ronan or maybe Karen Gillan. That isn’t ridiculous, is it?
Not at all. What if someone wanted to turn The Deep Man into a game, what would you want them to do?
I can best envision a Deep Man themed role-playing game perhaps along the lines of Mass Effect. On the other hand, a set of Nerf dueling swords could also be nifty for settling schoolyard violations of the Honor Code.
So, is there anything else you think someone interested in The Deep Man should know?
Prospective readers of The Deep Man should know that this story is an exploration of characters, technologies, and principles of governance and warfare, much like such Golden Age epics as Frank Herbert’s Dune. In The Deep Man and in those classics, we partake of adventures that ask meaningful questions, rather than serve as vehicles for force-feeding dogmatic certainties to the reader. Science fiction should broaden the reader’s view of the world and the future, not cause it to narrow.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Deep Man, what military sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Well, most of the sci-fi I love is older, but books that are still in print that might ring a similar bell for folks would include Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and maybe John Ringo’s Live Free Or Die.