With the word “Vulcan” in the title, and a circular upright structure on the cover, you might think Robert Mitchell Evans’ Vulcan’s Forge (hardcover, Kindle) is going to be a sci-fi space opera story about some rather logical people who teleport to different worlds. But as he explains in the following email, not only is this sci-fi novel not a space opera story, and not connected to Star Trek or Stargate, but it actually has more in common with some dark detective novels and movies.
To begin, what is Vulcan’s Forge about?
The story is a blending of science fiction and film noir. It’s about Jason Kessler, who is charged with using film to help indoctrinate his colony’s culture with an approved set of moral priorities, which are an idealized of Americana from 1950s. Jason himself doesn’t fit into the mold and rebels at the expectation that his only real purpose it to settle down into the life of a family man. When Pamela Guest sweep into his life, she brings freedom from the colony’s stifling ways but also end up drawing Jason into crime, danger, and a secret that threatens everything.
Where did you get the idea for Vulcan’s Forge, and how did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
This novel is the fusion of several of my passions: science fiction, movies in general, and film noir in particular. For years I searched for the right plot to bring these things together. I knew I wanted to write a noir science fiction novel but the actual story eluded me for a long, long time. The key came from an earlier novel I wrote. I realized that in the history of that novel’s setting lay the elements for a mystery and noir that I had been searching for.
Now, I am a plotter, so I worked from a detailed outline. I can never tackle a project as larger as novel without an outline. I have to find and fix my plot holes before I start writing. In many ways I admire the writers who can work without the net of an outline, but that is not me.
It sounds like Vulcan’s Forge is a noir sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you see it?
I wouldn’t call it a space opera. The story is set on a single colony, and that colony it just one city on a vast unexplored and untamed planet. As I mentioned, it’s really science fiction and film noir. I am far from the first writer to mix those two genres but what I hope I managed to do is bring in a different flavor of noir to this blend. Many of the other works draw from the private eye type of stories, and I have taken as my inspiration the works of James M. Cain who wrote the classic noirs fictions Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. I adore the noir stories of an average person drawn by their appetites into danger the seedy side of their worlds.
Now, unless I’m mistaken, Vulcan’s Forge is your first novel, but not your first published story; you have a short story collection out called Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Are there any writers, or specific works, that were a big influence on Vulcan’s Forge but not on any of your short stories?
I already mentioned James M. Cain and of course there’s Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, and numerous other crime and noir authors that bubbled in the back of my head as I wrote Vulcan’s Forge. But Vulcan’s Forge is very different from my other works. I think the central mood of any noir is cynicism and maintaining that for the length of a novel I knew was going to be a challenge for me. The short stories in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades are dark, and many are cynical, but it’s quite different in 5,000 words than in 80,000.
How about non-literary influence; did any movies, TV shows, or games have a big influence on Vulcan’s Forge? Because the cover makes me think of the Stargate movies and shows, and the word “Vulcan” makes me think of Star Trek even when it’s in conjunction with rubber tires…
Clearly the film noirs I mentioned are a big influence. Here in San Diego we finished a yearlong festival of that genre that was a lot of fun and very inspirational. I would also say the classic ’50s SF movie When Worlds Collide was an aspect in the genesis of this novel. In the backstory Earth is destroyed by a passing rogue brown dwarf and humanity launches thousands of automated arks in a bid to save the species and the novel takes place on one of those colonies.
The word “Vulcan” in the title is a reference to the Roman god, and the forge is the tool of the gods. In the novel, it is the McGuffin that is the source of all the trouble and eventual resolution of the plot.
And this is my last question about your influences: In your author bio it mentions your “brief and ultimately unsuccessful tour in the United States Navy.” How, if at all, did your time in the Navy influence Vulcan’s Forge?
Vulcan’s Forge is purely a civilian story. What three years in the U.S. Navy gave me was exposure to the wider world, to culture outside of America, and a hopefully a deeper understanding of humanity in all its complexities. Though I do have a military SF series I am working on, and that was much more directly influence by my service.
As you know, some science fiction novels are stand-alone stories, but some are parts of larger sagas. What is Vulcan’s Forge?
Vulcan’s Forge is a stand-alone novel, but there are stories to be told in the same fictional setting which I personally refer to as The Shattered Earth universe. It’s a stand-alone because it was about the one event, which is pivotal to Jason but has little effect beyond his life and the larger context of that setting.
That said, when I do work on stories and novels in a series, my preference is for each to be able to stand alone as a complete story but taken together given a fuller experience for the reader. I utterly admire Pratchett’s Discworld stories that can be read in any order and yet lock together to present larger pictures and narratives.
Earlier I mentioned your short story collection, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Are any of the stories in that collection connected to Vulcan’s Forge?
No, none of the stories in that collection connect to The Shattered Earth. Each of those stories are independent tales not aligned with any of my larger narratives.
I also asked earlier if Vulcan’s Forge had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interested in adapting Vulcan’s Forge into a movie, show, or game?
Not at this time. But if it were to be adapted into a visual media, I would think film would be the best fit. It is, in many ways, a love letter to cinema. There are tons of movies references in the story, and it seems fitting that it should be adapted to that over television or games. Both of which I spend too much time enjoying, so it’s no slight against them at all, just it’d be better as a movie.
If Vulcan’s Forge was going to be adapted into a movie, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
I had some of the characters cast in my head as I wrote the novel. For the sultry and secretive Pamela Guest I used the UK actor Gemma Arterton [Clash Of The Titans]. I’ve been a fan of hers for quite a while and I think she could give the part the subtly I see in the character. For one of the novel’s heavies Eddie Nguyen I see Nathan Fillion [Firefly].
A side note about character names in Vulcan’s Forge. When the artificial intelligences started naming the first generation born in the colony, they ignored cultural or racial factors and so names in the novel are completely separated from a character ethnic heritage. All the other characters I’m wide open never having fixed on any particular actor as a model or stand in.
Finally, if someone enjoys Vulcan’s Forge, what similar sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Oh, now that’s a tough one. I never came up with a good set of SF comp titles to compare Vulcan’s Forge against. But I can tell you some of my favorite author and they have certainly influenced how I approach writing and crafting characters, plot, and story. Nancy Kress is one of my most loved hard SF writers. She manages to combine strong characterization along with strong science. For her I’d suggest the Greetree series of two books, Crossfire and Crucible.
I also admire Tim Powers because he can craft morally dubious lead characters and still have you fully engaged. It’s something I hope I have achieved with Vulcan’s Forge. For him, I’d suggest Last Call, which is a deliciously dark story that retells the Fisher King myth with poker, tarot cards, and Las Vegas gangsters.
Lastly, I’d recommend Delta-V by Daniel Suarez, which is a great novel with strong elements of criminal enterprises and characters fighting outside of their weight class.