Under normal circumstances, mental illness is a real problem. Obviously. But in trading emails with writer Angus McIntyre about his new sci-f novella The Warrior Within (paperback, Kindle), he revealed that having multiple personalities is actually a helpful skill for Karsman, a space colonist who’d rather be left alone.
What is The Warrior Within about?
It’s the story of a man who just wants a quiet life. You can probably guess how well that works out for him.
Karsman lives in a small town on a backwater planet. He has a secret that he hides from his friends and neighbors: he’s host to multiple “personas,” artificial personalities each specialized in a different set of skills. For years, he’s been doing his best to pretend to be just like everyone else. But then three soldiers come to town with murderous intentions and he finds himself drawn into a battle that he didn’t choose.
Is Karsman’s condition a psychological disorder? Because it sounds more like he really does have other peoples’ consciousnesses in his head.
It’s definitely not a psychological disorder. But Karsman’s personas aren’t exactly “other people.” They’re more like subsets of complete consciousnesses that work in parallel with his own mind. Mostly.
So was The Warrior Within inspired by a psychological condition?
Obviously, things that I’d read about the real-world phenomenon called multiple personality disorder (MPD) — now usually called dissociative identity disorder (DID) — played a part in imagining Karsman’s condition. I didn’t research DID specifically, because that’s not what Karsman has, but his condition does have some features in common with real-life DID. When people with DID find themselves in a stressful situation, one of their identities may “take over” to handle the situation. Afterwards, they may have difficulty remembering exactly what they did or said while one particular identity was “in control.” That happens to Karsman too.
But Karsman’s personas aren’t intended to be psychologically real depictions of DID. They’re basically an instance of a very common trope in sci-fi, the idea of being able to draw on pre-packaged sets of skills. Like many superpowers, it’s a type of wish fulfillment. Think of Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix exclaiming “I know kung-fu.”
It’s an idea that comes up a lot in sci-fi in one form or another. For example, in George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen novels [When Gravity Falls, A Fire In The Sun, and The Exile Kiss], people can plug in chips to give them new skills or personalities. You could also see the Dixie Flatline construct in William Gibson’s Neuromancer as being similar: a specialist’s unique expertise captured and packaged for later use. There’s a lot of prior art for this particular trope.
Another influence was probably The Gang in Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight. The Gang are four distinct specialist personalities that co-exist in a single person. It’s a space-saving feature: if you don’t have room on your spaceship for four mission specialists, you send one physical body with four people inside. Watts’ Gang is a psychologically plausible portrayal of an engineered dissociative identity; the personas in The Warrior Within are a little closer to the standard trope.
The Warrior Within is a science fiction novella. But is there a subgenre within sci-fi, or a combination of them, that you feel best suits The Warrior Within?
It was submitted to Tor.com [the book’s publisher] as part of their call for space opera submissions. And it certainly has many of the trappings of classic space opera — starships, alien planets, galactic empires — though the starships and the galactic empires are mostly offstage.
There’s a touch of hard sci-fi in it. The action takes place on a planet that’s tidally-locked to its parent star, so that it always keeps one face turned toward the star. That real astronomical phenomenon informs quite a lot of the setting and description. But while I tried to make it broadly realistic, I didn’t agonize over the details. Hard sci-fi fans who come looking for a plot that hinges on the minutiae of orbital elements or atmospheric mixing in tidally-locked worlds may be disappointed.
It’s also a Western: bad guys come to town, and the reluctant lawman has to stand up to protect the townsfolk. That’s a classic Western trope, though you’ll also find it in samurai movies and elsewhere as well.
So are there any writers or specific books that you think had a big influence on The Warrior Within, in terms of both what you wrote and how you wrote it?
As I mentioned, the Budayeen novels. Like Marid Audran in Effinger’s books, Karsman’s a rather melancholy figure, a pacifist who really just wants to be left alone to get on with his life and wishes that people didn’t keep dying violently around him.
I have a fondness for books that describe societies that aren’t simply cookie-cutter projections of a future USA. Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series [God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture] and Tobias Buckell’s Xenowealth books [Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose, and Apocalypse Ocean] both come to mind.
At the risk of sounding pretentious or presumptuous, I’m also a big fan of Emile Zola. He wrote a huge series of interlinked novels in which the protagonists are ordinary people caught up in times of rapid change. Zola wasn’t writing science fiction, but many of his novels are about the human impact of new technologies: La Bête Humaine, usually translated as The Beast In Man, is about the railways, with the steam engine as a metaphor for the violent, uncontrollable force of technology; while Au Bonheur Des Dames, a.k.a. The Ladies’ Paradise, deals with a still more alienating modern invention, the department store. Writing about how science and technology change who we are is a core theme in science fiction. Zola was describing his present instead of an imagined future, but the issues and concerns are very much the same.
Zola’s project — creating an extensive, linked set of stories about the lives of ordinary people — appealed to me. My stories typically feature more gunfights and spaceships than his, though.
How about non-literary influences; what movies, TV shows, and video games do you think had an impact on The Warrior Within and in what ways?
Because the basic story embodies a trope found in a lot of Westerns, you could say that there’s a diffuse influence from classic Western movies. I couldn’t point to anything specific, though.
TV science fiction tends often to be “spaceship fiction,” a mixed bag of characters knocking around on a starship. All the starships in The Warrior Within are off-stage, so there’s no direct influence there. Though I will admit that early exposure to Blake’s Seven — a blackly-cynical British version of Star Trek where The Federation is a despotic empire and the “good guys”‘ are mostly self-serving criminals — probably warped my thinking forever, and left me with a lifelong distrust of powerful individuals and institutions.
The other non-literary influence is personal experience: time spent in central and south-east Asia shaped some elements of my imagined world.
Now, a bunch of sci-fi novels and novellas I’ve read lately have the first books in a series. Is The Warrior Within a stand-alone novella or part of a series, and why did you decide to make it whatever you made it?
The Warrior Within is a stand-alone story, but it’s set in a future universe that is the setting for a number of other planned works. Events and characters in The Warrior Within will connect to events and characters in those books. I’m in the process of outlining a novel that continues the story of one of the characters from The Warrior Within. Though not, perhaps, the one you might expect.
For some years I’ve been kicking around ideas for stories set in three future universes. A couple of years ago, I had an epiphany when I realized that instead of being three distinct universes, they were actually three different timeframes within the same universe. The Warrior Within is from the third of these; one of my published short stories, “Blind Perseus” [which you can read for free here] is from the second. I’ve also written a handful of short stories that take place in one part or another of this same extended future. I hope that some of these will also appear in due course.
Currently, I have partial outlines for four novels set in the first timeframe, another four in the second, and four or five that link up with The Warrior Within. Most of these are still only at the outline stage, however, so it may be a while before they see the light of day. Don’t hold your breath.
Does that mean I shouldn’t hold off on reading The Warrior Within until all of the books are out?
Probably not. I mean, you could if you wanted to, but I think The Warrior Within works quite nicely on its own. There’s no backstory you need to know in order to understand it. And I’d hate to think of it sitting gathering dust on your shelf while you wait for me to get through everything else I have planned.
So, yes, read it today. And encourage all your friends, family, casual acquaintances and strangers you meet at the mall to read it too.
Will do. So, has there been any interest in adapting The Warrior Within into a movie, TV show, or video game?
Only a handful of people, most of them at Tor.com, have read the complete story so far, so as you can imagine, expressions of interest in adaptations haven’t exactly been pouring in. But it’s early days yet.
I think The Warrior Within would work best as a movie. In my experience, the best movies are often based on short novels, so The Warrior Within is just about the right length. I think the way it begins slowly and then gradually ratchets up the action would also lend itself well to a movie.
If The Warrior Within was to be adapted into a movie, who would you suggest they cast in the main roles and why them?
I know many writers mentally cast their characters as they write, but it’s not something I did in this case.
Karsman is a big, craggy guy. There might be a touch of Leonard Cohen about him, but he’d need to be taller and burlier. And more alive. His friend Steck is a dour little blue-collar type; maybe Steve Buscemi [Monsters University] could play him. Hafþór Björnsson, who plays The Mountain on Game Of Thrones might do for the biggest of the three soldiers. Otherwise, I’m not sure who I’d cast.
There’s a complication, though. The people of the planet in my novella are mostly of distant Indonesian descent. Do you think we could find a Javanese Steve Buscemi somewhere?
I’ll check. But in the meantime, if someone enjoys The Warrior Within, what would you suggest they read next and why that?
I’d definitely recommend any of the authors and series that I mentioned earlier: Kameron Hurley, Tobias Buckell, George Alec Effinger. They all write fast-paced adventures set in richly-detailed future worlds whose societies are modeled on cultures other than those of the US or Western Europe. Ann Leckie [Ancillary Justice, Provenance] and Nnedi Okorafor [Binti, Akata Witch] are more good choices for anyone hungry for a setting that isn’t simply a projection of present-day white America into the 25th century.
If you want some more space opera with a world-weary hero and a touch of hard science, Brian Stableford’s Hooded Swan series is pure pleasure. Peter Watts writes bleak, intense hard sci-fi that is deeply cynical about humanity but profoundly optimistic about human beings. Charles Stross’s debut novel Scratch Monkey has its flaws but it’s still perhaps my favorite of his books: surreal, vivid, and ultimately moving.
And while you wait for me to piece together my grandiose vision for a future history, try Iain M. Banks’ Culture series [Consider Phlebas, The Player Of Games, Use Of Weapons, The State Of The Art, Excession, Inversions, Look To Windward, Matter, Surface Detail, and The Hydrogen Sonata], or Larry Niven’s Known Space books for some sprawling, satisfying space opera.