With The Valkyrie Protocol (hardcover, Kindle) writers Jacob Holo and David Weber are continuing the time travel sci-fi adventure series they started earlier this year with The Gordian Protocol. In the following email interview about it, the two discuss what inspired and influenced both this series and this second installment, and why Thor star Chris Hemsworth would be perfect actor to play…someone if this series came to TV.
David Weber, Jacob Holo
Let’s start with some background. What was The Gordian Protocol about, and when and where did it take place?
Jacob: The “elevator pitch” I like to use for this novel is that it’s about two historians, one from the thirtieth century and one from our modern day, who must travel back in time and change the past in order to save the future. Oh, and there are a lot of very determined people with militarized time machines trying to stop them.
David: I would add that all of the various time travelers had pretty conclusive “proof” that they couldn’t actually change history…until it turned out that they could. If you look at both of the future societies we structured for this book, each of them experienced its own version of a high-tech “near miss” before the events in Gordian. It turns out that there was another one waiting for them, and like both of the earlier “near misses,” in a way, it was the result of what you might call technological hubris.
I would also add that the real focus of this novel is less on the gadgetry and technology of time travel than it is on the imperative of making moral choices. One of our characters has to choose whether or not he will assume personal responsibility for guaranteeing that the Holocaust happens on schedule if that’s what’s required to save not just one future, but the future of multiple universes.
And then what is The Valkyrie Protocol about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to The Gordian Protocol?
Jacob: The Valkyrie Protocol follows The Gordian Protocol chronologically, and features many of the same characters dealing with the ramifications of the events from the first book, the most notable being that everyone now realizes time travel is very, very dangerous. A police force, The Gordian Division, has been established to enforce time travel law, and this book features our heroes facing their first major crisis as a formal organization rather than the motley crew drawn together in The Gordian Protocol. Granted, they’re new at this, so they’re still getting settled, but they’d better figure out things quickly because whole universes are imploding for no apparent reason, two archeologists are conspiring to illegally change the past, and the closest multiverse superpower is building a fleet of heavily-armed time machines.
David: We also spend a lot more time in the past in Valkyrie, with our two renegade archaeologists (and Samuel Pepys). Of course, from the perspective of the thirtieth century time travelers in Gordian, virtually all of that novel was in the past, as well. In this case, it’s in our own past, as well. And, again, we are looking at where morality, the need for personal redemption (at any cost), and technology intersect.
When in the process of writing The Gordian Protocol did you first come up with the idea for The Valkyrie Protocol?
Jacob: The goal was always to use The Gordian Protocol as a launch point for additional stories using the same multiverse / time travel setting. These future stories could then go in a wide variety of directions. While writing The Gordian Protocol, I knew we opened a big can of worms with one aspect of our time travel ruleset, specifically the ability for people and objects to be replicated via time travel. That is a very powerful tool for a fictional cast of characters. Too powerful, in my mind, so it needed limits. Hard limits. The initial seed for The Valkyrie Protocol is essentially us shoving those worms back into the can and sealing it with Loctite.
It sounds like The Gordian Protocol and The Valkyrie Protocol are time travel sci-fi adventure stories.
David: I’d say that’s definitely true as far as the first two books are concerned, and that’s certainly going to be an element of all of the books we are projecting. But “adventure” doesn’t necessarily mean having to deal with universe-threatening menaces. I had always envisioned this as more of a “police procedural” series, with an organization designed to police the timelines (plural) once the existence of other universes had been proven, coupled with an ability to travel backward in time and interact with the past in a way which would create additional timelines. I think we’ll be getting back to more of that in the future, but we also have two pretty thoroughly developed thirtieth century future societies in which we can play with more “normal” criminal activities enabled by some pretty impressive technology. So I think readers will be seeing “adventure” on a less…epic scale, but with plenty of excitement (and the occasional explosion) to keep things busy.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Valkyrie Protocol but not on The Gordian Protocol? Or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
Jacob: Not really. David and I performed a lot of detailed design work on the setting before we began the first book, so the same sources have influenced both novels to date.
I’d have to say the biggest writing influences on this series for me have been Michio Kaku’s books Hyperspace, Parallel Worlds, Physics Of The Impossible, and The Future Of The Mind. Those books are like candy for my brain.
David: Yeah, I don’t think anyone influenced us on Valkyrie whose influence hadn’t already been “baked in” when we didGordian. But I think anyone writing in a given genre is going to have been influenced by others in that genre. A writer’s voice evolves out of all of the other voices he’s ever encountered, plus the individual strands that he brings with him, and I think that’s probably true about plots and story ideas and concepts, as well. I know that I always loved H. Beam Piper’s Paratime stories, and my entire original concept for the series was strongly shaped by how much I had enjoyed them and my desire to play with the same concept. As often happens, that concept grew and changed in the course of actually creating the books, but I think I’d have to say that Piper, in particular, is definitely part of the series’ DNA.
How about movies, TV shows, or games; did any of them have a big influence on The Valkyrie Protocol?
Jacob: So, I’m something of a gamer, and that…may have influenced certain aspects of the thirtieth century cultures in the books.
David: No, Jacob — really?! I never would’ve guessed that!
Jacob: I’ve always enjoyed a wide variety of games, be they card games, pen and paper RPGs, tabletop miniatures, or video games, so pinpointing specific influences is a little challenging, to be honest. One place I think this influence can be seen, though, is in how I like to structure action scenes. Specifically, I like to create tiers of threats to face off against the protagonists, much in the same way a game designer might structure a first-person shooter. For instance, in The Gordian Protocol, our heroes face off against enemy ground forces consisting of light combat drones, special operators, and STANDs (powerful humanoid machines under the direct control of a human mind). The drones act as disposable cannon fodder, the special operators have abilities similar to our heroes, and the STANDs are both extremely deadly and very difficult to kill. In the same way that different threat tiers can provide a varied experience for a gamer, they can also allow us to create a variety of action moments for a reader to enjoy.
David: I’m not especially influenced by games when I write. I am — or was, at any rate — an avid gamer, but I’m considerably older than Jacob, so I was old school: pen and paper, dice, tabletop miniatures, etc. I did quite a bit of RPG, but my real love was for historical tabletop games. I’ve done some game design, but it was never electronic, and I think that Jacob’s familiarity with that genre had more effect on these two books than my own gaming experience. My love for history had a huge effect on both of them, but not so much games, movies, or television from my perspective.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, The Valkyrie Protocol is the sequel to The Gordian Protocol. What can you tell us about this series?
David: I’d always envisioned the series as open ended. I wanted to be able to write a series of novels that would be clearly interrelated, have a clear chronology, but not be oriented around the same sort of spinal cord story arc of some of my other books. My Honor Harrington series is undoubtedly the clearest example of that approach, and I think it worked well there, but I wanted these books to develop on their own, going wherever internal events might take them. Part of that was because there’s a lot more freedom creatively in an approach like that, and part of it was to have a platform for readers who prefer their series a bit more…free flow. So it’s definitely an ongoing project, as far as I’m concerned, for as long as Jacob’s prepared to put up with me and Baen is prepared to publish them.
Jacob: David and I just signed contracts for another three books in this series, so readers have at least that many to look forward to. We’re due to turn in one a year for the next three years, but I’m not sure where Baen Books plans to slot in their release dates.
We also plan for the third book in the series to be a tighter, more intimate murder mystery whodunit within the same setting.
Earlier I asked if The Valkyrie Protocol had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has there been interest in adapting The Valkyrie Protocol — and, of course, The Gordian Protocol — into a movie, show, or game?
Jacob: No, nothing of that sort. David has had some conversations with interested parties regarding a few of his other works, though I’m not sure if those conversations are at a stage where he can talk about them publicly yet.
David: Yeah, there’s interest in three of my other series, actually: the Honor Harrington books, the Path Of The Fury / In Fury Born universe, and Mutineers’ Moon. “Interest” doesn’t necessarily translate into “finished product,” of course, but it’s kind of cool. And at the moment, Honor is looking like television; Fury is looking like a movie project; and Mutineers’ Moon is looking like anime / CGI, so there’s an interesting…spectrum in play.
If someone did want to turn The Gordian Protocol and The Valkyrie Protocol into something, what format do you think would work best.
Jacob: I think a TV show would be the best medium here, since I think a lot of the details would get squeezed out in compressing this story into a movie.
David: Definitely TV. For the reason Jacob said, but also because these books have ensemble casts of characters. Some of the difficulties I encountered with earlier Honor Harrington movie project brought home to me just how hard it is for a movie to give sufficient screen time to a large number of characters, and it would be impossible to do these books without an awful lot of screen time for a lot of people. I’m not saying that it would be impossible to do them in a way that made room for our cast, but it would be difficult, and Hollywood’s tendency to simplify in the name of squeezing things in wouldn’t make me very optimistic about a movie treatment.
And who would want them to cast as Raibert and the other main characters?
Jacob: Chris Hemsworth [Thor: Ragnarok]. Not only is he a great action hero leading man, which is appropriate for what Raibert evolves into, but I think he has excellent comedic timing as well. I love writing scenes with Raibert, but I’ll admit I tell quite a few jokes at his expense.
David: I’m not sure. I wish there were a way to cast [Training Day‘s] Denzel Washington as one of the protagonists, but…I’m not sure Chris Hemsworth would be my first choice for Raibert, although he could definitely carry the role. For one thing, it may be typecasting, but I just see Hemsworth as the perfect fit for Philosophus, instead. I’d also have to cast at least one vote for casting Jared Padalecki [Supernatural] for Raibert, both because Sharon would hurt me if I didn’t, and because I think he could definitely carry the role, as well. And this may sound a little strange, but for Benjamin, maybe Tom Cruise [Edge Of Tomorrow] or [Star Trek‘s] Chris Pine, for rather different reasons in each case.
Jacob: I didn’t even think of Hemsworth as Philosophus! That would be perfect.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Valkyrie Protocol, and they’ve read The Gordian Protocol as well, which book of each other’s would you recommend they read next and why that one?
David: I’m torn between Bane Of The Dead and The Dragons Of Jupiter. In the end, I think I’d have to come down on the side of Dragons. The Seraphim series has great “giant, stompy robots,” and I know how Jacob loves them, but Dragons just works better for me. It may not have In Death Ground‘s “gigantic fleet battles,” but there’s plenty of action, heroism, and sacrifice, and I have a great weak spot for Ryu and Kaneda.
Jacob: In Death Ground. Heroism, sacrifice, gigantic fleet battles, and a relentless enemy. What’s not to love? This is where I first encountered David’s writing, and I still have a soft spot for it.