For the first four books of the Gordian Division series of time travel sci-fi police procedural murder mystery whodunit adventure novels, author Jacob Holo collaborated with fellow writer David Weber. But for the fifth, The Dyson File (paperback, Kindle), Holo is flying solo. In the following email interview, Holo explains what inspired and influenced this new mystery, as well as why he wanted to go it alone this time around.
You did a good job of explaining the ins and outs of the Gordian Division series when we did the interview about The Weltall File, so let’s just jump into it: What is The Dyson File about, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to the previous book in this series, The Weltall File?
The Dyson File takes place a few short weeks after The Janus File, and once again features Detective Isaac Cho and Special Agent Susan Cantrell. They’re sent in to investigate the suicide of the Dyson Project’s chief engineer, in charge of the plans to turn the planet Mercury into a solar-collecting megastructure. The “suicide” turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg, and the two detectives soon find themselves embroiled in ruthless corporate intrigue — and caught in the sights of a vicious gang of mind-hackers.
Where did you get the idea for The Dyson File?
I came up with the idea while researching police procedurals for The Janus File. Before that, I hadn’t realized police initially treat suicides as homicides, which makes a lot of sense in hindsight. That hook — that a suicide that was far more than it initially appeared — forms the starting point for The Dyson File‘s sprawling mystery.
The previous books in the Gordian Division series were time travel sci-fi police procedural murder mystery whodunit adventure stories, though the time travel parts are more prominent in some novels than others. Is that whole mouthful a good way to classify The Dyson File as well?
More or less, though the time travel aspect is particularly light within The Dyson File. The focus is firmly on the unfolding mystery and how our two sleuths solve it.
Now, while you wrote The Dyson File yourself, you cowrote the previous books in the Gordian Division series — The Gordian Protocol, The Valkyrie Protocol, The Janus File, and The Weltall File — with David Weber. How did you come to write Dyson on your own?
I really fell in love with Isaac and Susan as characters while writing Janus and Weltall. I especially enjoy playing with the contrasts between the two characters, how Isaac is very much a methodical, by-the-book detective and Susan is more used to blowing up her problems thanks to her counter-terrorism background. Despite these differences, they are absolutely perfect for each other, both professionally…and personally. They just don’t realize the latter yet because they’re that focused on their jobs. They are — hands down — my two favorite characters to write, and so I asked David if he’d be okay with me writing a solo Gordian Division book starring the pair. He loved the idea. I then presented the story concept to Baen, and the rest is history.
But how much were you on your own? Like, could you have called David if you got stuck?
I was almost entirely on my own for this one. I showed David my plot outline at the start, and the finished manuscript at the end. David provided a few recommendations at both stages, but that was pretty much it. Sure, I could have called David at any time for a helping hand. But by then, we’d already written four Gordian Division books together, two of which were police procedurals. I felt comfortable in my ability to fly solo on this one.
I sometimes joke that I don’t actually write novels; I design them and then I construct them. What I mean by this is I approach writing in a very structured manner. I develop detailed outlines at the start, and then I work through those outlines line-by-line until the novel is finished. This process allows me to solve most of my problems before I write the first sentence.
I don’t catch all of the problems this way, but typically the ones that slip through don’t require a lot of reworking.
While he didn’t co-write it, David was, I would imagine, still an influence on The Dyson File. Aside from him, though, are there any other writers who had a particularly big influence on The Dyson File, but not on any of the previous Gordian Division novels?
There aren’t really any other authors that influenced just The Dyson File, though Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels have been a huge source of influence for the File books within the Gordian Division. In fact, I came up with the idea for The Dyson File while reading the third Ed McBain novel, The Pusher.
And how about Nova? What influence did your cat have on The Dyson File?
Nova continues to be a source of stress relief and typos. She has a habit of walking across my keyboard during the hour before one of her meals. Or if she feels she isn’t receiving an acceptable quantity of scratches.
As we’ve been discussing, The Dyson File is the fifth book in the Gordian Division series. But it also kind of sounds like its somewhat self-contained…
The Dyson File can very easily be enjoyed as a solo novel. In fact, this entry is probably the most self-contained story so far within the Gordian Division series. The events in The Janus File do get referenced a few times, but that’s about it.
Having said that, do you think The Dyson File would be a good place to start this series? And I don’t mean the best place — that would clearly be the first book, The Gordian Protocol — but a good place?
The Dyson File can certainly work as an entry point to the series, though anyone who has read at least The Janus File first will enjoy a richer reading experience with this newest entry, since Janus explores how Isaac and Susan first came together as a team.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Dyson File, and they’ve read all the other Gordian Division novels, what sci-fi mystery adventure novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Since I already recommended Alastair Reynold’s Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies in a previous interview, I’ll go with something different this time. I’m a big fan of Peter F. Hamilton’s works, especially the Night’s Dawn Trilogy and Commonwealth Saga. And while I haven’t gotten to them yet (They’re in my reading pile, I swear!), his Greg Mandel novels sound very interesting.