In the following email interview about his new science fiction heist novel The Misfit Soldier (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Michael Mammay explains why — despite his main character being a soldier in power armor — this isn’t really a military sci-fi novel.
To start, what is The Misfit Soldier about, and when and where does it take place?
The Misfit Soldier is a story about a con-man who goes on the run from the mob and joins the military, but it opens about three years later, when he’s already established as a soldier. Gas Gastovsky has been supplementing his pay by running low-level scams and hosting illegal card games, but he’s been looking for a big score, and now he thinks he has found it.
It takes place in what will feel like the future, but it’s in a made up galaxy with no relation to Earth, so it could be any time. There’s a galaxy-wide war between the two super powers, and Gas is in one small corner of that, on an orbital station around a planet that’s been contested for a couple of decades.
Where did you get the idea for The Misfit Soldier; what inspired it?
It really came from a couple of places. I actually started writing it years ago — in 2016 while I was waiting to see if Planetside was going to sell or not. I was goofing around and I wrote this little three-hundred-word flash fiction piece about two soldiers talking about space whales. One soldier is talking about space whales, and why they make him afraid to go off in a ship, and the other, playing the straight man to the joke, argues that there is no such thing. It was fun to write and funny, and not much of anything. But I liked it, and I liked writing the humor, so I started to turn it into a book.
Then Planetside sold, and the publisher wanted more in that series, so I set it aside for a long time, which was fine, because while it was fun to write, there really wasn’t a ton of story behind it. It was just two soldiers doing wild stuff and getting in trouble.
Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve finished writing Colonyside, and it’s time to figure out what’s next, and these two guys — Gas and Putty — are back in my head, but this time I’ve got a plot. I want to write Kelly’s Heroes in space. And that’s where the heist aspect of the story came from.
In The Misfit Soldier, Gas wears power armor. There are a lot of different kinds, such as the full-body ones of Iron Man and Master Chief in Halo, and ones that as less involved, like what Tom Cruise wore in Edge Of Tomorrow. What kind does Gas wear, and why did you decide this would be the best fit for him and this story?
There are two types of power armor in The Misfit Soldier: standard and heavy. They are both full body, with standard being something like Iron Man and the heavy version being something more akin to the Hulk-Buster version of Iron Man.
Why? Well…if I’m being honest, I just thought it was cool.
I asked about the power armor because including it makes me think The Misfit Soldier is a military sci-fi story, but the heist aspect makes me think it may have a bit of noir as well.
I’d call it a heist novel set in a military science fiction setting. It does have a little bit of noir to it, much like my first series, but The Misfit Soldier has a much lighter tone.
Which would explain why it’s also been described as being John Scalzi-esque.
Yeah, I think when you’re comparing something to Scalzi, there’s such a huge breadth there, right? Like Old Man’s War is quite a bit different from The Interdependency series which is way different than Redshirts. And honestly, I don’t think this directly matches up with any of those, but maybe if you took the attitude of Redshirts and The Interdepency series, combined them, and then set them in the setting of Old Man’s War, you’d be in the ballpark.
What I love about Scalzi is that whatever he’s doing, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And The Misfit Soldier definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I love books that combine humor into other genres, and especially military sci-fi. So something like Craig Alanson’s Expeditionary Force series would be a bit of an influence in that regard, maybe. But really not a ton of direct influences.
Aside from Scalzi and Alanson, what other writers had a big influence on The Misfit Soldier? And I mean just on The Misfit Soldier, not on your other books.
Honestly, this was such an off-the-wall project for me, I can’t really put my finger on any major influences. Joe Zieja, maybe? I haven’t thought about it much, but his books are hilarious. A lot of my influence came from real life, just observing soldiers. Because when you put a hundred or a thousand mostly young people together for days on end, you’re going to get some funny moments.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Because the plot reminds me of that movie Three Kings…and the heist episode of Rick & Morty.
The obvious one is Kelly’s Heroes. Fans of that movie are going to see some direct comparisons. Ocean’s Eleven, for sure. The TV show Leverage. And there’s this old web-series called Red vs. Blue that definitely had an influence on the soldier aspect of things.
Now, you’ve mentioned your Planetside trilogy a couple times in this interview. Obviously, The Misfit Soldier isn’t part of that series, but is it part of its own series?
The Misfit Soldier is a stand-alone book. It has a very definitive ending and really doesn’t leave any open threads. There’s no planned sequel. Right now, I’m working on a very different project: a generation ship book with very little humor.
With that said, I woke up this morning with an idea for a sequel, and I got up and jotted down a quick 1200-word proposal. And it’s pretty good. So we’ll see what happens. A lot depends on the readers. If people love it and are clamoring for more, and the sales are good enough to motivate the publisher to make the right offer? And I know that’s not a cool answer, right? Like I think there’s this idea that writers — any artists, really — do it for the art. And that’s true, to some extent. But a writer’s got to eat, too. So…yeah…a lot of it depends on how well this one does.
I should note that I’ll be fine either way. I’ve got a folder with a dozen book ideas in it, and I’d love to write all of them. But I definitely wouldn’t mind spending more time with Gas and the crew. They’re really fun to write.
We talked earlier about the movies, etc., that influenced The Misfit Soldier. But to flip things around, do you think The Misfit Soldier could work as a movie, TV show, or game?
I see it as a movie, yeah, but it would need a pretty big budget because of the special effects you’d need for the high-tech combat scenes. I feel like it’s more movie than TV show because I think the structure fits. It’s definitely a three-act-structure book, and that fits well with a modern action movie more than a several episode series. If you wanted to do it for TV, I think you could take the characters and put them in different situations, but it would be more of a spin-off than a direct adaptation.
What about a game?
I don’t think it would work as a game.
So, then, if someone wanted to turn The Misfit Soldier into a movie, who would you want them to cast as Gas and the other main characters?
I think it’s tough to cast because the cast is really young. Most of the main players are in their early twenties, so I think you’re looking at a lot of up-and-coming actors more than older, established names. And whoever plays the two leads, they need to have some comedy chops. Like I think of Putty as a young John Candy, and I really don’t know who that fits in Hollywood today. I think my dream casting for Gas would probably be Tom Holland [Spider-Man: Far From Home], or someone like that. Another young actor I love is Tanner Buchannan, from Cobra Kai. I think he’s great.
So, is there anything else that people interested in The Misfit Soldier should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
I’d like people to know that it’s not really military sci-fi. Yes, there’s a war going on, but the book isn’t about the war. It’s about the team. It has a found-family kind of vibe, with these very different characters who come together for a cause: their own.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Misfit Soldier, what heist novel of someone else’s — sci-fi or otherwise — would you suggest they read next and why that one?
The only sci-fi heist book I can think of is Derek Kunksen’s The Quantum Magician, which was good, but creepy. The puppets. I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows, for a fantasy heist. Honestly, I haven’t read a lot of them, but I’d like to read more, if you know of any.