They say that crime doesn’t take a vacation. And while this may be bad for Detective Salvi Brentt of the San Francisco Police Department in the near-future word of Amanda Bridgeman’s Salvation Series, it is good for people who enjoyed her noir sci-fi crime novel The Subjugate, since it’s why there’s a sequel, The Sensation (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Bridgeman discusses both this series and this sequel, and her plans going forward to keep San Fran full of crime.
Let’s start with some background. For people who haven’t read the first book, The Subjugate, what is The Salvation Series about, and when and where is it set?
The Salvation Series is set in a near-future San Francisco, several years after an event known as The Crash. The Crash was a terrorist attack that saw a virus unleashed over the Internet, and which targeted the early adopters of connected neural implants. The virus caused the neural implants to malfunction, killing many and leaving others brain damaged. As a result, neural implants were withdrawn from the market and declared illegal. The event divided society, with some pulling back from technology altogether. These people moved out of the cities and set up their own tech-free communities. Some of these pull-aways are religious, some are survivalist communities, etc. Many remain in the cities, however, and while some fight their addiction to and ever-increasing reliance upon tech, others just go on with their lives like nothing ever happened.
The series starts when a young woman is found murdered in a religious tech-pullaway community called Bountiful. But Bountiful is not like any other tech-pullaway, as they have a symbiotic relationship with the Solme Complex, which is located close by. The Solme Complex is a high-tech prison facility that is permitted to use neural implants to treat their prisoners. The Complex takes death row killers (Subjugates) and transforms them into placid servants (Serenes), and these reformed killers are allowed to walk around Bountiful, all in the name of forgiveness and repentance.
Detective Salvi Brentt of the SFPD must investigate the young woman’s murder in the Bountiful with her new partner Mitch Grenville, and in turn, investigate the Solme Complex, as she searches for a killer who is escalating.
The series explores our relationship with technology, religion, and the need for some to either control — particularly the lives of women — or be controlled.
And then what is The Sensation about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to The Subjugate?
The Sensation picks up several weeks from where The Subjugate left off. I can’t really say too much about this storyline, as it may give things away about the first book, but I will say that it deals with a new case that sees more spiralling murders, and some old faces from The Subjugate do return.
Here’s the blurb, which gives a good overview without giving anything away:
Last time she investigated the saints of the Solme Complex. This time it’s the sinners of the Sensation… A series of brutal murders has the homicide division of San Francisco’s Hub 9 working overtime. But as the bodies mount, they begin to question whether the attacks are random or somehow connected. When one of their own falls victim, Detective Salvi Brentt and the Hub 9 homicide team join forces with the narcotics and cyber divisions to track down those responsible. They soon discover a volatile new drug-tech experience, involving black market neural implants, has hit the streets, causing the epidemic of violence and missing persons. With the clock ticking and the bodies piling up, Salvi must go deep undercover in the seedy Sensation club scene to find out who is behind it. But in the secretive playgrounds of the rich and powerful, some will stop at nothing to protect their empire…
When in relation to writing The Subjugate did you get the idea for The Sensation, and how, if at all, did the second novel’s plot change as you wrote it?
I actually find it difficult to write stand-alone novels. My mind just automatically works in series. Each book will see the characters get through the individual challenge presented in that book, but I can’t help having a “season” arc built into the background. I know for myself that if I like a character I want to spend more time with them, so I’m drawn to series. However, it depends, of course, of the story you’re telling. Some stories will be better suited to one book (or a film, for example), as opposed to a book series (or TV series).
As I was writing The Subjugate, the storyline for The Sensation just came to me — in particular the murder of one of Salvi’s colleagues — and as a result I left a couple of breadcrumbs in The Subjugate that hint to the stories overlapping somewhat. So there you go, readers, there are Easter Eggs in book 1 that won’t become apparent until you read book 2.
And is there a reason The Sensation is set in San Francisco as opposed to New York or London or, more importantly, one of the nice cities in your native Australia?
In early drafts I only every referred to the location as The City, wanting it to be a little more mysterious, but then as an editor pointed out, I named New York as being where Stan was from and Chicago as being where Mitch was from, so I really had to name The City. I chose San Francisco because of its proximity to the Silicon Valley, which I thought fit nicely with tech exploration (though I know there are tech centers everywhere).
I could’ve set it in Australia, but America has the population size that suits this kind of story and adds a layer of claustrophobia to the city. Australia is the kind of place you want to set wide open space thrillers — where the isolation is your biggest enemy. Funnily enough, I’m working on one of those stories as we speak, though it’s not sci-fi, it’s a straight thriller.
It sounds like The Subjugate and The Sensation are a dystopian noir sci-fi crime novels. Is that how you’d describe them?
I think that description sums it up nicely, though it’s not a dystopian as in the world is incredibly unpleasant. Far from it. It’s near future and people are living their lives normally — but it is an exploration of the possibilities — both good and bad — of neural implants and our relationship with tech and the control of our lives and others.
So are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on The Sensation but not on The Subjugate? Or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
Yes, absolutely, though not stories in books, but definitely stories on screen. I was a huge fan of the film (and book) The Silence Of The Lambs and its heroine Clarice Starling. So, I would be lying if Clarice wasn’t in some way an influence on Salvi Brentt. I’ve also always found Hannibal Lecter to be one of the most intriguing and terrifying characters as well, and he has, in part, inspired antagonists in both my Salvation series and also my Aurora series.
Several documentaries have also inspired some of the storylines explored in both The Subjugate and The Sensation, though I’m lax to say which ones because, particularly for The Sensation, they would be major spoilers.
As we’ve been discussing, The Sensation is the second book of The Salvation Series. What is the overall plan for this series?
I’ve planned a 4-book series, of which each book will be a different murder to solve. However, each part will also feed into an overarching storyline (the series has a rough outline and book titles ready to go). Readers will be able to pick up each book independently and read it, though as is the case for any series (book or TV), readers will get more out of each book if they have intimate knowledge of the cases that have come before, what the characters have been through and relationship dynamics.
I’ve also toyed with the ideal of writing a stand-alone prequel about the events of The Crash — though with different characters as it occurs several years beforehand — but I’m not decided on that yet. Sometimes keeping the element of mystery serves a story better than actually laying bare the origin story.
As a side note, my Aurora series is currently at book 8 and will probably end on book 9 or 10. I don’t plan on doing another series that long again — but I guess you never know. If the reader demand is there, it can change everything. That’s the power of fandom!
Along with The Sensation, you are also going to have a novel out next March called Pandemic: Patient Zero, which is connected to the board game Pandemic. What is that book about, and how does it connect to the game?
Yes, I was very excited to have been asked to write the first novel in the Pandemic series. I did this last year before the real pandemic hit, so it has been a rather strange experience having life imitating art, as you can imagine.
The Pandemic book series will be based on the original board game, and contain similar characters. The series will most definitely align with the board game’s vision of co-operation and collaboration, as the team work together to keep the world safe from outbreaks and epidemics. My book, Pandemic: Patient Zero, is definitely an introduction to the series, as we focus on a new team member getting to know the existing team, while thrust into an escalating situation of a virus spreading rapidly through South America.
Given their close release dates, is it safe to assume you wrote The Sensation and Pandemic: Patient Zero either at the same time or back-to-back?
Yes. I worked on both at the same time in a rotation, handing in an edit for one, then immediately switching to an edit for the other. I had started working on Pandemic first and it was originally due for publication in June this year, but obviously that changed when the real pandemic hit. Last year and early this year were very busy as I was also juggling these two novels with a Warhammer 40K short story, too. Each of these projects required research and planning, and the biggest lesson I learnt how to buckle down and write fast — which is definitely a requirement for tie-in writing or anything where you sign a contract before you’ve written anything, which was essentially what these three projects were. It took a lot out of me, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’m proud of what I achieved.
Did I mention that I was also working 4 days a week in a day job?
Wow. Anyway, The Salvation Series has been optioned for a TV show. Is there anything you can tell us about this series?
Unfortunately, I can’t share any details as yet, but I will say this: the details are very exciting. Of course, there are still many hoops to jump through before it’s greenlit for production, but I have my fingers crossed we’ll get there as it’s been optioned by a very safe and experienced pair of hands.
As the writer of the novels, you will obviously have no say when it comes to, well, any aspect of the show. But if the producers did ask you for casting suggestions, who would want to play Detective Salvi Brentt and the other main characters?
I’m open to just about anyone, really, and wouldn’t want to name anyone publicly. I have no doubt the casting agents, with guidance from the producers, will do a great job. If they ask for my input, I’ll throw some names into the ring, but at the end of the day, they’re the experts. I trust the process and trust those involved will nail it.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Subjugate and The Sensation, which of your other books would you suggest they check out next, and why that one?
Though all my novels to date fall under the banner of sci-fi, they are all different flavors of sci-fi. Where the Salvation Series is a near-future crime thriller, the Aurora Series [which starts with the novel Darwin] is a space opera / military sci-fi series (effectively the love child of Battlestar Galactica, Aliens, and Universal Solider), while The Time Of The Stripes is an alien contact drama (which I describe as The Leftovers meets The Lord Of The Flies). So I guess it depends on what your “cup-of-tea”‘ is.