Of all the detective agencies in all the universe, why did author Mike Kupari set his cyberpunky sci-fi detective story Trouble Walked In (paperback, Kindle) on a fictional planet orbiting a real star five hundred odd years in the future? That’s just one of many questions I asked him in the following email interview, sweetheart.
To begin, what is Trouble Walked In about, and when and where does it take place?
When the beautiful Dagny Blake walked into his office, Detective Ezekiel “Easy” Novak could tell that she was bringing trouble with her. Her sister Cassandra, who works for the Ascension Planetary Holdings Group, has gone missing. Ascension is the largest and most powerful corporation on Nova Columbia, and Easy quickly realizes he is like David taking on a proverbial Goliath.
What begins as a routine missing person case quickly turns into something larger and darker, with implications that could affect the entire planet. Cassandra wasn’t just investigating her own employer — she had accidentally uncovered Project Isiah, a secret effort to excavate and exploit an ancient alien artifact known only as The Seraph. Whatever it is, it could be putting the entire colony in danger, and it’s a secret that Ascension is willing to kill to protect.
Easy finds himself trying to unravel a conspiracy that may implicate not only Ascension, but the cult-like Cosmic Ontological Foundation and possibly even the Terran Confederation itself. Unsure of who to trust, he must rely on his wits to find Cassandra and live to tell the story.
Where did you get the idea for Trouble Walked In, and how did it evolve as you wrote it?
I can’t point to any one thing that inspired it, exactly. I decided I wanted to write something in the sort of setting I developed before it before I even figured out what the plot was going to be. The idea kind of percolated for a few years before I decided where I wanted to go with it.
Is there a reason you set it on another planet as opposed to a space station or a really big ship or, for that matter, on Earth?
Trouble Walked In takes place on a fictional planet named Nova Columbia, which orbits the star 18 Scorpii. (The star is real.) It takes place in the late 25th Century. The setting isn’t intended to be a real prediction of what life will be like at that time; my method is to dream up the world I want my story set in, and work backwards from there to determine how it came to be.
In my first draft, it was going to be set in a futuristic version of Las Vegas, right here on Earth. As I was outlining the plot, though, I decided a different planet would work better, since much of the story revolves around ancient alien artifacts that had been buried for sixty-eight million years.
It sounds like Trouble Walked In is a sci-fi version of a noir detective story….
It is a detective story, absolutely. Whether it’s “noir” or not, I can’t say. Noir originated as a film genre, after all. It often gets conflated with the detective stories of the pulp era, but those actually predate the emergence of film noir in France.
There are also cyberpunk elements in the story, including cybernetic augmentation, and people connecting their brains to computers via neural links, but the main character doesn’t have a link. The cyberpunk elements were there mostly for the aesthetic, to build an interesting world. They weren’t central to the narrative.
You see this in contemporary fiction, too. Few movies and novels feature main characters to spend as much time looking at their phones as many of us do in real life. All because something is realistic doesn’t mean it makes for an interesting story.
Unless I’m mistaken, Trouble Walked In is your eighth novel….
It’s my seventh or eighth, depending on how you count. There are three books in the Dead Six series — Dead Six, Swords Of Exodus, and Alliance of Shadows — but the book Invisible Wars is a compendium of all three, plus related short stories written by myself, Larry Correia, and Peter Nealen.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Trouble but not on any of your other books?
I hadn’t read much in the way of detective stories. To get a feel for the narrative structure I read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. The character of Phillip Marlowe heavily influenced how I wrote my own protagonist, Ezekiel “Easy” Novak.
What about Larry Correia, with whom you co-wrote the Dead Six novels? How do you think working with him influenced Trouble Walked In?
I cowrote my first three novels with Larry, and it was in that way that I was able to become a published author in the first place. It was very much a learning experience for me. I can’t say it had too much direct influence on Trouble Walked In, however.
How about non-literary influences; was Trouble Walked In influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
The main video game influence was Cyberpunk 2077. Blade Runner and the anime Cowboy Bebop were also influences, not so much on the story as they were on the setting and the aesthetics. I’ve never actually played the Cyberpunk 2020 role-playing game.
And how about your blue-crowned conure, Jax? How did your parrot influence Trouble Walked In?
I asked Jax if he’d like to comment on his contributions to my writing effort. He said, “Peeka peeka peeka peeka peeka bird!” He followed up with, “Those white phosphorous munitions were used as a screening smoke, not as an incendiary agent, in full compliance with Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. If those insurgents’ lungs were burned, perhaps they shouldn’t have been breathing so hard. War crimes The crime was how bad they were at war.”
He declined further comment, citing concerns about a possible indictment by The Hauge.
Jax was, coincidentally, instrumental in helping me portray the deposed dictator Zander Krycek in Sins Of Her Father.
Now, sci-fi novels and detective stories are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes the detective gets a series of cases to solve. What is Trouble Walked In?
This novel was written as a one-off, as was the book I wrote before it, The Family Business. I like book series as much as the next guy, and I wouldn’t mind further exploring the worlds I created in those books if there’s demand for it, but in both cases I think the story arcs of the main characters are complete.
Sometimes it’s nice to read a novel and have everything wrap up at the end — no cliffhangers or “to be continued.” The nice thing about this is that you can pick up the book whenever and not worry that you’re starting from the middle of the series.
Earlier I asked if Trouble Walked In had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around and ask if you think Trouble could work as a movie, show, or game?
Some of my works could easily be translated into video games. I think the Dead Six series would have made fun cinematic first-person shooters, for example. Trouble Walked In is a much slower burn, though. You could probably translate it into a contemporary version of classic ’90s adventure games, but I think it’d work better as a show. In cinematic form I think it would work best as a mini-series. You’d have to cut a lot out if you tried to cram it into one movie, but it’s not long enough to be an ongoing television show.
So if someone wanted to adapt Trouble Walked In into a movie or show, who would you want them to cast as Easy and the other main characters?
I am by no means a movie buff. I probably couldn’t name more than a couple contemporary actors off the top of my head, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about this. I will say that for the lead role of Easy, I would cast Adam Baldwin [Firefly]. For one thing, he’s a good dude. For another, I imagine Easy as a bigger dude, and Adam Baldwin is like 6’3″. He’s a little older than Easy is, but I think he could believably play the character.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Trouble Walked In?
There are a few subtle references to other works sprinkled throughout the text. I’m curious to see if anyone will pick up on them.
Finally, if someone enjoys Trouble Walked In, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
My first recommendation would be The Family Business, released in 2021. It’s another stand-alone work about a man trying to do the right thing in a trying situation. If you’re interested in interstellar adventure and ancient alien relics, try Her Brother’s Keeper (my space opera, not Beth Wiseman’s the Amish Secrets novel — I don’t know any Amish secrets) and its sequel, Sins Of Her Father.