I don’t know what it is, but robots just seem like they’d make great detectives in noir sci-fi stories. For proof of this, you have to go no further than The Qubit Zirconium (paperback, Kindle), M. Darusha Wehm’s comedic buddy cop noir mystery science fantasy space opera. In the following email interview about it, Wehm discusses what inspired and influenced this robotic heist caper, as well as how it connects to the sci-fi board game KeyForge.
Photo Credit: Steven Ensslen
Let’s start with a little background: KeyForge is a battle card game, but where is it set?
KeyForge takes place on a mysterious massive world called The Crucible, where beings from across the universe find themselves inexplicably transported and then unable to leave. There are wide and varied alien civilizations on the planet who are forced to work together — or not! — as well as all kinds of settings imaginable. There’s everything from seas of acid to pastoral forests full of elves to cyberpunk underground cities run by demons. There’s something for everyone!
And then what is The Qubit Zirconium about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to KeyForge?
It’s about a jewel heist, and the strange creature and situations the detectives run cross as they try to solve the mystery. The story happens more or less at the same time as the game narrative, which is shortly after the human members of the Star Alliance find themselves stuck on The Crucible. It’s a self-contained story and no one needs to be familiar with KeyForge to enjoy the book, but avid players might recognize a few characters and settings from the game.
The heroes of The Qubit Zirconium, Wibble and Pplimz, first appeared in your story “Wibble And Pplimz: Investigators For Hire,” which was in the anthology of KeyForge short stories, Tales From The Crucible. When in relation to writing that story did you come up with the one for The Qubit Zirconium?
I pitched the idea for The Qubit Zirconium after Tales From The Crucible came out, and worked out the plot then. But while I was writing “Wibble and Pplimz: Investigators For Hire,” I fell in love with the two main characters, and knew that I wanted to write more of their adventures if I could.
So then where did you get the idea for The Qubit Zirconium, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to “Investigators For Hire”?
I mined old-fashioned detective stories from the likes of Chandler and Hammett for the plot, and drew the characters and settings from the wide world of KeyForge.
The novel’s action takes place some time after the events of “Wibble And Pplimz: Investigators For Hire,” and there’s a very minor spoiler for the short story in the novel, but they are separate cases for the detectives and they both stand alone as stories.
The Qubit Zirconium sounds like it’s a cross between a noir mystery and a sci-fi space opera. Is that how you’d describe it?
It was definitely influenced by those classic hard-boiled detective stories, but set in a wild science fantasy setting. Think contemporary She-Ra more than The Expanse. The two detectives are an odd-couple team, so there are elements of a buddy comedy in there as well.
It also seems, based on the cover — which people can see below — that The Qubit Zirconium may have a bit of humor in it as well.
I laughed to myself the whole way through writing it, and I hope readers will find it funny, too. Wibble is a bit of a joker, so there is a fair amount of funny banter between her and Pplimz, and many of the situations are inherently bizarre.
I’d say it probably has a mix of both kinds of humor, although the setting in particular makes it a good fit for fans of Hitchhiker’s.
So, who do you see as being the biggest influences on the humor in The Qubit Zirconium?
I really like characters who are obviously friends and colleagues but who also enjoy winding each other up, so stories with characters like that were the main influences on the core humor, which is basically two weird detectives solving crimes while bickering.
Now, The Qubit Zirconium is not your first novel. Are there any writers you see as having a big influence on The Qubit Zirconium but not on anything else you’ve written?
I hadn’t realized it until now, but Douglas Adams was obviously a huge influence, and the Wibble and Pplimz stories are the only things I’ve written so far that are really similar to his writing.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games; did any of those things have a big influence on The Qubit Zirconium? Aside from KeyForge, of course.
I drew on the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley in the recent TV adaptation of Good Omens, plus I was watching Elementary at the time I was writing, so I expect that aspects of its version of Watson and Holmes might have snuck in there as well.
Along with fiction, you’ve also written poetry. And, I assume, read some. Do you think there’s anything in The Qubit Zirconium that was influenced by you writing or reading poetry?
That’s an unusual question. I think that everything I read influences me to some degree or another, but I suspect that reading and writing poetry has the effect of making me consider the rhythm and texture of language a bit more. Decent banter between characters often has a song-like quality to it, with its back-and-forth nature, so I hope there’s a little bit of poetry in some of Wibble and Pplimz’s conversations.
Now, along with being connected to KeyForge, the cover of The Qubit Zirconium says that this novel is “A Wibble & Pplimz Investigation.” Does that mean there will be more investigations?
That’s impossible for me to answer, since I don’t own the IP and I have no idea if the rights holder will choose to continue the series.
That said, I would happily write more Wibble and Pplimz stories in any media. Given the absolutely incredible cover art by Natalie Russo, I personally think they’d make a great basis for a comic or — if I dream big — an animated tv show.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Qubit Zirconium, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one and not the other one?
Most of my novels are much more serious in tone, so the one thing I tend to recommend for fans of The Qubit Zirconium is my Nebula Award-nominated game The Martian Job. It’s a text-based choice game full of snarky characters where you play a safecracker called in to do one last job: a casino heist on Mars.