Andy Remic is the author of the novel War Machine. We liked the book so much, we wanted to do an interview with Andy. So we did. This interview was almost two months in the making, what with the holidays and various other interruptions cutting into our time. I’d like to thank Andy for being a gracious and accomodating interviewee. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together.
SF Signal: For those readers who don’t know who you are, could you give us some information about yourself and your writing?
Andy Remic: I’m 36 years old, started writing in primary school at the age of 5, then moved on to novels when I was 17. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do, career-wise. I was an English teacher for ten years, which was great until bureaucracy took over and made me hate the education system. I also hate many head teachers. What a bunch of egotistical apotheosized morons! However, kids are always guaranteed to make you laugh- which was the simple pleasure of the job!! Recently, I was able to write full time, although I still do some exam marking and university lecturing, so I took the plunge and am beavering away hard on my sixth novel, Sick World. The fifth, a nano-tech zombie novel called Biohell, containing your favourite Combat-K psychotic triumvirate, is due out November 2008.
I wrote a trilogy of hardcore military thrillers for Orbit in 2003, beginning with Spiral, then Quake, then Warhead. With each successive novel they storyline became more and more SF orientated, until Warhead explodes with a post-apocalyptic setting. The main character here is Carter, who is a deeply disturbed schizophrenic with an evil psychopath in his brain called Kade. When the going gets tough Kade takes over business, and performs horrible acts Carter would never dream of. Unfortunately, sometimes Kade can take over without Carter’s permission- a kind of mind-rape- and bad things happen. The Spiral novels are like a twisted version of James Bond, globe-hopping and with lots of guns, murder, and black humour in the interaction between Carter and his East-European sidekick, Mongrel- and basically a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek stab at blockbuster action fests like Bond, Andy McNab and Matthew Reilly.
Then I wrote War Machine for Solaris Books. War Machine is a hardcore sizzling rollercoaster of a novel with a gratuitous excess of violence, sex, dark humour and exotic aliens all wrapped up in a high-octane cling-film plot concerning an elite military unit illegally reformed who must battle across alien planets to discover justice, truth and revenge. Initially, the story begins with a quest to find an artefact which will reveal to Keenan the person who killed his wife and children…through the mean streets of the bustling, lawless dystopian planet known as The City – because the city has consumed the planet – to the humid jungles of Ket and the technologically advanced savages who inhabit the City of Bone, Combat K, through adventure and action and many bullets, arrive at their destination to find the hunted artefact holds a terrible secret…which in turn spins the story on its head, and has the unholy Combat K trio sent to Teller’s World, a dead planet, and home to the extinct GodRace Leviathan. There, Keenan must find answers to his deepest nightmares…and face a terror more ancient than anything before witnessed across The Four Galaxies!!
In my spare time I read, mountain climb, I love motorbikes and have two great little boys, Joe who’s 5, and Oliver, who’s 2. They’re little buggers and we scrap a lot, and I enjoy taking them places (such as Alnwick Castle near Newcastle, where they filmed the first few Harry Potter films).
SFS: As you stated, War Machine, is your fourth novel. Your first three comprise the Spiral trilogy series and, in your interview with SFX Magazine you said “In some quarters I was criticized for a certain lack of science fiction therein, and the lack of hardcore SF elements were due mainly to the books being written, first and foremost, as thrillers.” Are the Combat K novels an attempt to show the Spiral critics that you can, indeed, write full-blown science fiction stories? Were the Spiral novels perceived to be science fiction because they were published by Orbit?
AR: Heh, critics are an item of comedy for me, so let me explain. When my first book Spiral came out, I got some ace reviews, really enthusiastic, but also a couple of nasty little items which, I felt, were quite personal. If you don’t like a book, fine. But don’t say stuff in print you wouldn’t say to my face, because hey, one day you might meet me and I don’t like people taking a liberty. At the time, my editor, Simon Kavanagh, and friends like Dave Gemmell and Ian Graham all said ignore the critics, but it’s such a hard thing to do. Gemmell told me that when a critic praises your book, it makes you big headed, and when one slams your book, it rips at your soul. So ignore both and try to maintain a balanced view. At the time, I felt like certain people were trying to fuck with my career, something I’d worked hard to achieve. And any author who says the bad reviews don’t sting is a liar; all writers work damn hard to produce a novel. It takes an incredible amount of effort.
Anyway, now I’ve psychologically acclimatized to my work being released in the public domain. If I get a good review, great, it’s brilliant. If I get a crap one, hey ho, I mentally log the name for the next SF convention and move on. Normally bad reviews are based on hatred (i.e. a critic will hate the swearing in my books so much they launch into an evangelical diatribe!) or jealousy, because the critic is an unpublished SF author who obviously considers their own unpublished work superior. Sometimes a book just doesn’t gel with a reader, and this is absolutely fine – it’s these “bad” reviews which always read true and never offend. Whatever. At the end of the day, what matters is that my books sell, and that [some!] people enjoy them. I write for the readers. What also matters is my publisher’s support and encouragement. That means a lot!
Thus, I would never, ever write or alter a novel in response to a critic’s whining. I listen to the advice of my editor, which is always sound, educated, intelligent, and any alterations come from there. Ultimately, I write from within, I write what moves me, and excites me, I write what I would love to read. If this clicks with a reader, then cool. War Machine was what I wanted to write. In the beginning, I started off my career as a straight SF and fantasy author, and when Spiral was accepted by Orbit, Tim Holman (Editor in Chief) and Simon Kavanagh, felt there were enough SF elements in this near-future thriller to warrant an Orbit release (what with the Nex bad guys being a genetic merging of insect and human!). Ultimately, many books share elements from different genres. My new one, Biohell, is a kind of military SF horror. A threesome, so to speak.
The Combat K novels are SF because I love SF. I put my heart and soul into them, and I believe, ultimately, this is what matters.
SFS: War Machine reads like an 80’s action movie, which is what makes it fun, full of over the top action, larger than life protagonists and biting humor. (And I think this would make a great movie. Sadly, I don’t work in Hollywood). Was this the feeling you were going for when you were writing the novel? If so, were you influenced at all by any of those action movies (Die Hard, Last Action Hero, etc.)?
AR: I think I do write quite cinematically, in that I picture scenes in my head fully realized, like a movie scene playing out in my twisted imagination. Then I simply write what I see. I kind of assumed that’s what all writers did!! Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe, alternatively, it’s a window to a weird twilight universe into which I have a guest-eye view. Ha! Or maybe not. I did like some of the 80s action movies, like Die Hard, but I think it was Total Recall which really blew me away. I remember coming out of the cinema (in about 1991, I think, and in which there wasn’t a single spare seat) and thinking, that was just so cool. I want to write stuff like that! At that point, I started adding a lot more action to my SF. The black humour, however, came from a combination of my dad, who had a warped and brilliantly dark sense of humour, and from observing humanity around me. What the hell are people doing?
SFS: The protagonists in War Machine are not the most sympathetic bunch. You have Keena, a man living with self-hatred and fueled by revenge, Pippa, an emotionally scarred woman prone who fights with no mercy, and Franco, a deviant personality with a relentless optimistic streak, and they’re all war veterans who have done some really nasty things in the past. Do you consider it a challenge to take such unpleasant characters and use them to create an interesting story? When writing War Machine, did you intentionally create the characters with the problems they have, or did that flow from the story? Does it concern you that some readers may be turned off by the characters and the violence that follows them around?
AR: In War Machine, it was always intended that Combat K were taken from prisons and asylums- simply because the Quad Gal Military feel as if these people are expendable. Thus, with prison backgrounds, they then had to have some form of unpleasant or illegal histories, and I just thought I’d take it one step further with this particular team and make them the worst of the worst. As a device for a writer this means you have ready-made conflict which is always a good catalyst for an action novel. Franco’s deviancy, however, just leapt in from nowhere. At the beginning, I thought it would be fun to have him attempting to woo Pippa; then it just blossomed into full-blown cheeky sexual deviancy. This was incredible fun to write!! Also, to be honest, I find it easier to write about unpleasant characters than pleasant ones; after all, somebody who’s nice, well, what’s interesting about that? Nice is dull (but necessary). Conflict and aggravation are what fuel my writing.
I think some readers would be turned off from the story because of the violence and hardcore nature of the book, but only in the same way I’d be turned away from a historical saga due to long-winded verbal-diarrheic location descriptions and straight-faced love triangles. As a writer you can’t please everybody. So I choose to please myself; if other people enjoy that, then brilliant. If nobody enjoys it, I’d better find myself another career!! Thankfully, I get much more positive feedback than negative, and interestingly, practically all the negative feedback has been about bad language. To which I have to respond that I’m simply a mirror, reporting what I see in every single pub in the country. One guy once emailed me to say that in his world people didn’t swear, and that I was a bad person for having my characters swear. What? I pointed out that he must live in a bubble.
SFS: What makes a (presumably) mild-mannered English teacher into an author of rip-roaring, action packed science fiction? Was it all the Shakespeare? Speaking of that, you make no bones about choosing rip-roaring action over “Literary”. How would some of the classics of literature had looked if you had written them?
AR: Ha, you don’t know me then!! I was never mild mannered, and I love adrenaline sports and speaking my mind. Opinionated, I certainly am.
My focus from a young age was always a writing career. I used to get a crap job, save up some money, then work for 6 months as a writer. In the end I got disgruntled having no cash and no decent motorbike, so I did my degree and teacher training, and became a teacher. Although I did enjoy teaching, and education can be a real joy (children always make you laugh), ultimately it was a device to pay my bills and provide a decent lifestyle. I was so sick of living the “poor writer” cliché!
In terms of rip-roaring action over literary works, I just write what I enjoy reading. Remember, Dickens was once a newspaper hack, his stories gobbled up by the unwashed masses! Maybe my stuff will be considered “literary” when I am dust? Hah! Maybe not.
In terms of classics, I think Macbeth does just fine without my intervention; all those murders! Shakespeare certainly enjoyed his hardcore bloody violence. And I doubt I could improve Romeo and Juliet for sheer sex and tragedy. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue stars a woman who takes five husbands for their sex and wealth, and seeks to gain “sovereignty” over them sexually. She is the first true feminist, the first Spice Girl, the first woman of literature with “girl power”!! Now these “literary” works are starting to sound more like Andy Remic plots, don’t you think? And don’t get me started on Süskind’s Perfume!
As you can see, I am inspired by the classics, and the only thing I could add of worth is machine guns!
SFS: With four novels under belt, where do you see yourself going as author in the future? Do you see yourself writing more stories within the ‘science fiction’ genre or will you branch out? And personally, I think adding machine guns to Canterbury Tales would certainly liven things up. When can we expect to see that story?
AR: Haha, I’m working on it. Chaucer with grenades. Superb.
In terms of the future, I am happy to stick with SF titles, and have another few Combat K novels planned (a further 3, including Sick World). I’ve been working on ideas for a heroic fantasy action novel, which I’m calling Kell’s Legend as well, plus my agent is pitching some straight mainstream thriller ideas to publishers at the moment. A kind of nasty James Bond, but with lots more believable high-octane action. They go by the name of my ‘Deathtec‘ novels, and explore how technology will bring down humanity in the future. Other than that, I will happily prostitute myself to any project which comes along. You listening, George Lucas? I want to write a Star Wars book! With lots of action!! And Han Solo!! Now that would be cool.
SFS: You’ve alluded to there being three more Combat K novels. What can you tell us about the next book, Biohell? Anything else you can tell us about what’s in store for the crew in the later novels?
AR: Biohell is a story about vanity technology gone wrong, which finally ends in deviated machine-gun toting zombies. My favourite bit is when Franco falls in love, and his girlfriend, Mel, turns into an 8 foot mutated zombie monstrosity. As the story arc progresses in future novels, Combat K must carry out missions for Quad-Gal Military, starting with a simple, easy 3 day non-violent exercise on the desolate unpopulated planet of ‘Sick World’. This, however, turns out to be far from simple… and their next adventure is the biggest challenge of their career!
After that, there are two more works in progress planned. I don’t want to say too much at this early stage, because I haven’t finished Sick World yet and sometimes things change during construction. What I’m not short of, however, is ideas!! And as long as readers enjoy the books, I will surely write them!