Events in life don’t always have neat and tidy endings. So why do so many stories wrap up with a nice little bow? It’s a question Duncan Swan pondered while writing his dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel Monstre. In the following email interview about the first volume of this two-part story, Monstre: Volume One (Kindle), he explains why, in this series, “happy outcomes aren’t guaranteed.”
To start, what is Monstre about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Simply put, Monstre is about the end of the world. It’s a dark book (both literally and metaphorically) set in a gritty world where happy outcomes aren’t guaranteed. In essence, I wanted to make it realistic, or as realistic as a sci-fi book can be, and by that I mean I was tired of the classic American action hero who saves the world from an asteroid / contagion / alien invasion / nuclear war, etc. It’s a tired trope and a poor reflection of reality. Monstre is the story about what happens if we lose. What do people do then? How does mankind react to their approaching doom? How deep are people willing to dig to survive, and just what are they willing to do when there are no rules anymore?
Where did you get the original idea for Monstre, and how did that idea change as you wrote it?
The first book I wrote, and then shelved, was set far in the future, in a world of pure and utter darkness where what was left of mankind lived in walled cities. It was hard sci-fi, and frankly, a little over ambitious for my first published work. So I hit pause, went back to the drawing board and began to write about how the world got that way. I had an effect, but I needed a cause, and wanted something a bit more mainstream in its appeal. Monstre is the result of that change of heart.
It sounds like Monstre is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. Is that how you’d describe it?
True, those are the primary genres that Monstre falls under, but with some additional horror, thriller, and military influences thrown in for good effect. It’s not easy to put it in a box, and I think that’s been appealing to early readers and reviewers.
And is there any significance to you calling it Monstre and not Monster?
Yes, and no. No, it’s not a spelling mistake, but rather an homage to the fact Monstre follows two timelines, with the start of the book / one of the timelines being set in France. So Monstre is simply French for “monster.”
While Monstre: Volume One is your first published novel, I’m sure you’ve written other things over the years. And not just shopping lists and notes to yourself to wash the cat. Are there any writers, or specific novels or short stories, that had a big influence on Monstre: Volume One but not on anything else you’ve written?
I’d say World War Z had the most influence specifically on this book. I loved how Max Brooks gave different perspectives on the same event from characters of different countries, ages, backgrounds. It influenced my decision to write from two points in time — at the time of the accident and three months later — and develop character POVs from soldiers to scientists to civilians, and even members of the same family.
What about non-literary influences; was Monstre: Volume One influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because on your website you describe it as being like, “…if Alien, World War Z, and Generation Kill had a three-way in a very dark place.” Which sounds like the worst Porn Hub search ever.
[laughs] Thanks for that. Take the best bits of those three and you’ve got Monstre. Maybe invite Pitch Black and Edge Of Tomorrow to this dark literary orgy (but I’ll admit, there are no sex scenes). If I haven’t hooked you by that description, you probably won’t like Monstre or my sense of humor.
You have a degree in Aerospace Engineering, as well as a Masters in Commerce. How, if at all, did your degrees influence Monstre?
The Aerospace Engineering background definitely influences the level of detail I go into (especially the world building aspects), and what type of topics I gravitate towards. My Masters of Commerce degree probably contributed the least to my writing, other than steering me toward a career in Finance that I ultimately hated, and gave me the incentive to quit and write full time.
As for transferable skills, most unexpectedly, writing and especially editing is like coding (which I did a lot of in my Engineering undergrad, and then again when I was working in finance). Both are iterative processes, both take a lot of patience, error handling, debugging and attention to detail…something every author needs if they want to have any hope of finishing a book.
Now, you have already said that Monstre: Volume One is the first half of the story, and that Monstre: Volume Two will be out next summer. Why did you decide to not make it one book?
I originally wrote it as a single book, but it’s a 900+ page beast of a read. I had to ask myself as a reader — would I take a chance on something this lengthy from a debut author? Probably not. People want to try before they buy these days, and I’m happy to let them. Volume One finishes with one hell of a cliffhanger, so I’m confident they’ll be coming back for more.
That said, there are people who will decide to wait until Monstre: Volume Two comes out before reading either of them. But is there any reason why you think they shouldn’t wait?
Hmmmm, I guess it depends on the type of ending people like. Do you enjoy the suspense of a cliffhanger? Do you like being caught off guard? I do. My release approach gives you a chance to let your imagination take over between Volume One and Two. Time to subconsciously explore the world, the characters, the unanswered questions. Then when Volume Two comes out you’ll get the satisfaction of finding out if you were right. If you’re an impatient reader, then wait to binge it all I guess.
If you think about it, most successful TV series don’t wrap up with complete resolution. They leave you begging for another season. Monstre: Volume One is essentially season one with a sophomore season already guaranteed.
Earlier I asked if Monstre had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
That’s the intent, and I hope to be having those discussions in the near future. The concept art on my website gives a flavor for how Monstre could be visualized as a game or on screen. It’s probably most fitting as a TV series, especially considering the scale and episodic manner of the story, the flipping back and forth between two timelines and locations, and multiple points of view.
As a movie it would take more adaptation, I think. There are dueling storylines and several characters to build that would be challenging in two hours. But who says it can’t be done!
If Monstre was going to be made into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as the main characters?
The line between film and TV actors has blurred a lot these days. Here’s who I could picture representing each character given their appearance, demeanor, and range they’ve shown in their previous roles. For Trace, Tennessee sheriff, hardened and defeated, Liam Neeson. For Colter, a U.S. Marine commanding officer, decorated and respected leader, Pablo Schreiber. For Sara, a deputy, optimistic and protective, Mackenzie Davis. For Cass, a nuclear physicist at CERN, observer and holder of truth, John David Washington. For Clay, an escaped convict and uneducated brute with strong survival instincts, Dave Bautista. For Drew, the deputy, who’s resilient and a talented outdoorsman, Chris Pratt. For Levi, a U.S. Marine, and the ever-inappropriate joker, Nicholas Hoult. For Ms. David, a CIA agent and disease expert who displays little emotion, Jodie Foster. For Mr. Alan, a CIA agent, practical and selfless, Benicio Del Toro. And for The Commander, an Army commander and deserter who’s ruthless and sadistic, Daniel Craig.
And what if someone wanted to make it into a game?
I think something like Metro Exodus from 4A Games is a great example. Both in terms of how a novel can translate into an amazing game franchise, and as an example of the type of game Monstre could be: a first-person shooter / survival game with an immersive story and open world experience set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with stunning day / night cycles and dynamic weather. I love how your choices in Metro Exodus directly determine your comrades’ fate, with the caveat that not all your companions will survive the journey.
Finally, if someone enjoys Monstre: Volume One, what similar sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Monstre: Volume Two to come out?
I’d say Max Brooks’ World War Z, because the only thing worse than zombies are fast zombies; The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which imagines a future without hope, and then says, “Now what?”; and Stephen King’s modern-day classic, The Stand.