With Tyger Bright, writer T.C. McCarthy has reached the halfway point of the sci-fi space opera series he began in 2019 with Tyger Burning. With Bright newly released as a mass market paperback — after originally coming out in trade paperback, for Kindle, and as an audiobook — I present the following email interview, in which he discusses what did, and did not inspire and influence this second installment.
Let’s start with a little background: What was Tyger Burning about, and when and where was it set?
Tyger Burning is about a Burmese soldier, Maung Kyarr, who fought against the United States and its Allies in a future conflict that takes place in Asia. Maung is the product of experiments. His Chinese allies removed a portion of his brain and replaced it with high tech hardware (wetware) to turn him into a super soldier, a “dream warrior,” who committed multiple horrific atrocities in support of Chinese war plans and goals.
Tyger Burning takes place at the end of the war, after mankind’s first contact with a warrior alien race, the Sommen, who mysteriously disappeared and left behind strange structures. Maung and other Burmese have been relocated to the U.S. as laborers to dismantle these structures. But when his identity as a dream warrior is discovered, he has to flee to the Kuiper belt where he learns more about the Sommen than he ever wanted: the Sommen didn’t leave forever; they’ve given humanity 100 years to prepare for a full-scale Sommen invasion.
And then what is Tyger Bright about, and how does it connect to Tyger Burning, narratively and chronologically?
Tyger Bright picks up a couple of decades after Tyger Burning; Earth is preparing for war with the Sommen, and the main character is now Maung’s daughter, San Kyarr. We learn more about the nature of our future alien invaders. The Sommen faith not only revolves around combat and warfare, but around finding the one race in the universe whose religion matches with theirs and who can defeat the Sommen in warfare: Earth. At least, that’s what they’re counting on.
When in relation to writing Tyger Burning did you come up with the idea for Tyger Bright?
I plotted the entire story arc of the series at the same time. It originated in a short story, “Somewhere It Snows,” which I used as the opening chapter to Tyger Burning. The conclusion of Tyger Bright brings us to the halfway point.
Like Tyger Burning, Tyger Bright has been called a space opera. Is that how you’d describe it?
I would absolutely describe it as space opera, happily. I purposely wrote these books to be entertaining to as wide an audience as possible. It would be shocking if anyone were to tell me they thought the books had literary merit — whatever that is — since that was never my intention. I wanted to write a galaxy spanning space opera with action and adventure.
So are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Tyger Bright but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially Tyger Burning?
Only one thing — a book — had any influence on Tyger Bright at all: Dune. I love Frank Herbert’s writing in his first and second books (not so much the other books he wrote) and must admit he had a major influence here. Tyger Burning had absolutely no other influences; it was 100% T.C. McCarthy.
None? What about all the cool space opera movies, TV shows, and games?
No, none of those influence anything I do. None of my work has been influence by non-literary sources. I see too much of that in today’s science fiction books and stories, and it’s a real turn off for me — like why would a writer go to those sources for influence and inspiration? They’re totally different art forms, and it’s really not hard to come up with one’s own plot ideas. When I want inspiration and influence, I turn to great writers and their works, and I never steal or borrow their ideas, instead looking for inspiration on style and language. For example, my first book, Germline, heavily drew on Michael Herr’s style from Dispatches, which is why a lot of people commented that it reminds them of a Vietnam War memoir.
And I have to ask, what influence did William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” have on Tyger Bright?
First, the poem is a classic — one of those poems from which everyone can recall 1-2 lines. So it gives the reader an immediate frame of reference just from the title: there’s something beautiful and terrifying in my pages. Second, because the poem captures how I see the Sommen: a perfect killing machine, something to be admired and feared, simultaneously.
You mentioned earlier that Tyger Bright is the halfway point in this series. What can you tell us about the other two books?
I have the last two outlined but not yet written, so there may be a delay of some time for those. Both have “Tyger” in the title, and their titles are known, but only to me, and I’m not giving the rest away. I also wouldn’t write off the possibility of going beyond that. The series does not have a name, but I unofficially refer to it as the Tyger series.
Given what’s happened with other writers and their series, some people are probably thinking they’ll wait until all four books are out before they read any of them. And some may also decide to then binge all four back-to-back. Story-wise, do you think this is a good idea?
This is a really tough question. You’ve got to support your favorite authors by buying their work immediately. If books don’t sell, publishers won’t pay for the sequels.
But when you phrase the question the way you did… Binge. Go ahead and binge. I am such a binger when it comes to series that stream, like Carnival Row or Peacemaker, because I want to eat the whole cake / pie in one sitting; I really hate having to wait, so I couldn’t in good conscience tell others to buy a book here and there and to be patient for the sequel. Don’t tell my publisher I said this…
Earlier I asked if Tyger Bright had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. And you said no. But to flip things around, do you think Tyger Bright — and thus Tyger Burning — could work as some movies, a show, or a game?
Movies or shows — definitely. I wrote them in the three act format so that the plots can be easily / readily transferred to the screen, big or little. I learned that lesson with Germline. Brad Pitt, Christopher Marcus, and Stephen McFeely tried to sell Germline to the major motion picture studios, but had to completely rework the plot because it was written in such a random fashion outside the three act format.
I don’t know about games. I suspect the stories would transfer over, but I’m not much of a gamer, so it’s hard for me to say.
So if Brad, Christopher, and Stephen wanted to turn the Tyger books into a movie or show, who would you want them to cast as Maung, San, and the other main characters?
For Maung: B.D. Wong. Have you seen this guy act? He has incredible range and I’ve loved him in every role he’s ever played. Especially the dad in Fresh Off The Boat. He’s just brilliant and I think of him every time I think of Maung.
For San: Lana Condor. She has San written all over her. I’ve only seen a little of her acting, but even that little bit suggests she’s a major talent on the verge of breaking out.
Nan: Lucy Liu. Because I’ve always loved her and now she’s the perfect age for this role.
Win: Andrew Koji. I binge watched his series on Showtime where he’s a kung fu fighter in 1800s San Francisco, Showtime, and the guy can play good guy or bad guy. He has the perfect look for an evil character like Win.
Zhelnikov: David Dastmalchian. After seeing the new Dune movie, only David could be Zhelnikov.
The Bishop: he only makes a brief appearance in Tyger Bright, but there’s this still unknown actor in Hollywood, Camden Pace, who was the inspiration behind this character. Camden is an up and comer, and would be perfect.
Finally, if someone enjoys Tyger Bright, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Start at the beginning, the one that started it all: Germline.