INTERVIEW: Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen Talk About Writing and Collaboration [Plus: 'Space Battles' Story Excerpt!]
Mike Resnick is, according to Locus, the all-time leading award winner, living or dead, for short science fiction. He is the winner of five Hugos, a Nebula, and other major awards in the United States, France, Spain, Japan, Croatia and Poland. and has been short-listed for major awards in England, Italy and Australia. He is the author of 68 novels, over 250 stories, and 2 screenplays, and is the editor of 41 anthologies. His work has been translated into 25 languages. He is the Guest of Honor at the 2012 Worldcon and can be found online as @ResnickMike on Twitter or at www.mikeresnick.com.
Brad Torgersen is a full-time healthcare tech geek by day, and United States Army Reserve Warrant Officer on weekends. He is a Writers of the Future winner, as well as a contributing author for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine—the latter awarding him the “AnLab” readers’ choice prize for best novelette, 2010. Presently, Torgersen is a Campbell nominee for Best New Science Fiction writer, Hugo nominee, for his novelette, “Ray of Light,” and also a Nebula nominee, for the same novelette. “Guard Dog” is the first of several collaborations with Mike Resnick. Brad can be found online at bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com.
Their collaboration in the anthology Space Battles, “Guard Dog”, is the moving tale of a Watchfleet sentinel named Chang, who leads a lonely life of extended, dream-filled sleeps in between frenetic, life-or-death battles. The Sortu had almost defeated humanity and the lives of everyone, including his wife and son, depend on men like him. Then, called to battle again, he finds himself up against the last opponent he’d ever expected…
BTS: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?
Mike Resnick: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books and Groff Conklin’s anthologies, both around 1950.
Brad Torgersen: My earliest memories of science fiction and fantasy – though I did not recognize what science fiction or fantasy were at the time – were of television programs from the late 70s and the very early 1980s. The original Battlestar Galactica, the original Star Trek, as well as Japanese animation imports like Battle of the Planets, otherwise known in Japan as Gatchaman. I was an eager viewer, and when I ultimately went off to see Star Wars on the big screen, I fell in love with the larger-than-life characters, other-worldly settings, and the spectacle of special effects combined with the tantalizing promise of what technology could offer.
BTS: How did you two come to collaborate on writing short stories?
RESNICK: Whenever I find a truly talented newcomer, I go out of my way to work with him or her, collaborate, invite them into my anthologies, introduce them to editors and agents, whatever’s helpful. I first met Brad when I presented him with an award at the 2010 Writers of the Future ceremony, we kept in touch, and when I was invited into a British military anthology, I remembered that he wore his dress uniform to the ceremony which meant he knew a hell of a lot more about the subject than I did, so I invited him to collaborate.
TORGERSEN: Mike didn’t know me from Adam, prior to 2010. Then I attended the Writers of the Future workshop in Los Angeles, California, as part of the annual 26th Writers of the Future event. Mike just happened to be the judge who handed me my trophy, and since I wore my Army dress blues (I am a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army Reserve) he remembered me for a project he got in January 2011. It was a story request for a military science fiction anthology, which Mike seldom gets, and he’d known I was getting published in Analog too, so Mike said, “Hey kid, let’s collaborate.” Three stories later, we’re still at it. There’s a fourth story, a novella, due out in Phil Athans’s Fathomless Abyss series later this year.
BTS: Where did the idea for “Guard Dog” come from?
TORGERSEN: I suppose the seed of the idea came from watching the movie Robocop. This notion that we might taken wounded police or soldiers and wire them up into cyborg supertroops. I imagined this concept extrapolated to an interstellar war scenario. Though I will say the original version of the story is rather different from the finished product. Mike Resnick is a formidable and insightful collaborator. We ultimately went in a direction that would not have occurred to me, except for Mike’s input and storytelling savvy.
RESNICK: Brad’s plot, my ending.
BTS: How did you approach working together? Split scenes? One rewrite the other?
RESNICK: Same as with most of what Maureen McHugh has dubbed “Mike’s Writer Children”. I got the assignment, we discussed the plot, Brad did the first draft, I did the polish.
TORGERSEN: Well, it was basically table tennis. I’d hit the ball over the net to Mike, he’d read what I sent, then he’d hit the ball over the net to me, I’d read his additions, deletions, comments, etc, then do more work, then hit the ball back again. And so on, and so forth. Since the core of the story was mine, Mike mostly had to extract an emotional impact from the actions of the characters. Something he’s very, very good at. Since it was our second collaboration, we’d already learned a bit about how the other writer worked. It was a smoother process. Especially since it was a shorter story.
BTS: How’d you get involved with Space Battles?
RESNICK: You (The Editor) invited me.
TORGERSEN: Having proposed our first collaboration, “Peacekeeper,” to Ian Watson’s anthology called, The Mammoth Book of SF Wars, Mike got the invite for a second military SF story collaboration for Space Battles. Since they came so close together and Mike had a military guy on hand with a track record in one of the digests, he didn’t hesitate to tap me on the shoulder a second time.
BTS: Brad, what have you learned from working with an old hand like Mike?
TORGERSEN: Emotional resonance is *everything* to the story. You can have all the action and technically correct science you want, but if the reader doesn’t have any emotional hooks to hang a hat on, (s)he is liable to not give a damn. And not giving a damn is the #1 thing you don’t want in a reader. Mike’s practically got it down to a science: how to take a scenario and extract those emotional hooks that won’t let a reader go, and jerk tears from a reader’s eyes at the end. It’s a pleasure to see him work with a piece of fiction.
BTS: Mike, have you learned anything working with Brad?
RESNICK: Nothing you could generalize. I’ve learned his strengths and weaknesses, but of course they differ for every writer. I’ve learned to respect his industry and his dedication, and to like him as a person.
BTS: What else do you have coming out that we can look forward to?
TORGERSEN: I’ve got two pieces coming up in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, though I can’t give issue dates yet. “Strobe Effect” is a collaboration I did with fellow Analog author, Alastair Mayer, and “The Exchange Officers” is a solo novelette which features (yes indeed) more space-based military adventure, though this time it’s very near-term. And of course there is our story “Peacekeeper,” as previously mentioned. The e-book for The Mammoth Book of SF Wars is already available for pre-order. I should also mention that I have several novelettes from Analog also released for Kindle and Nook, including my Nebula and Hugo award nominee, “Ray of Light,” which was the cover story for the December 2011 issue of Analog. Our novella for the continuing Fathomless Abyss series, from Phil Athans, via e-book, is coming out some time this year. After that, I may try to talk Mike into doing another collaboration, this time something for Analog, or, depending on how much Mike adjusts the trajectory of the story, maybe it will go to Asimov’s?
RESNICK: Got a bunch coming up: We have a short story called “The Ascent” coming in the Fathomless Abyss universe created by Phil Athans, and this June we’ll be doing a novella in the same universe. No other plans, but I’m sure we’ll work together from time to time…but he’s got a first novel to finish this summer. Win Some, Lose Some (Isfic Press, Worldcon GOH book, summer), Resnick’s Menagerie (Silverberry Press, collection, summer), The Incarceration Of Captain Nebula And Other Lost Futures (Subterranean Press, collection, summer), With A Little More Help From My Friends (Farthest Star, collection of collaborations, summer), Resnick On The Loose (Wildside Press, non-fiction collection, summer), Masters Of The Galaxy (PS Publishing, collection, summer), Stalking The Zombie (Garcia Publishing, collection, summer), Resnick Abroad (Alexander Books, non-fiction collection, summer), The Cassandra Project (Ace, novel, collaboration with Jack McDevitt, November), and The Doctor And The Rough Rider (Pyr, novel. December).
Here’s an excerpt from Space Battles…
A passive sensor pinged hesitantly, and Chang came alert. He felt his way through the familiar diagnostic routine, verifying the status of thousands of different shipboard components. As expected, everything was functioning. The sole minimal change was that his available fuel had decreased.
Chang had never been told exactly how long his fuel would last. In fact, there had never been any mention of refueling, nor rearming. This would have bothered him, prior to being crippled in combat. But now it was simply a fact of life. He knew he was disposable, had known it when he’d blinked twice for yes during the Watchfleet accessions interview in the hospital ward. It was still better than the alternative.
Another ping, this time a bit stronger.
Artificial adrenaline began to surge.
The threat. Where was the threat?
Chang’s head and spine were plugged into the core of an armored, spherical spacecraft hovering at a nameless set of coordinates that rode directly on the invisible wall between Human Space and Everywhere Else. He’d been on that spot for who knew how long? His cyborg life was composed of a series of extended, dream-filled sleeps in between frenetic, life-or-death battles.
At the time Chang had elected to undergo surgical implant and machine integration, the Watchfleet had been mankind’s best defense against the Sortu, a mysteriously aggressive species of xenophobes actively exterminating all “competitor” races in Earth’s particular region of the known galaxy. Where it took years to build, arm, and crew an ordinary warship, a Watchfleet monitor took mere weeks, and required only its cyborg pilot. Chang—and thousands of other wounded veterans just like him—had all signed up to establish an interstellar line in the sand: this far, no farther.
At the time, humanity had been overwhelmed, and the Sortu had almost won.
Chang and his comrades had put a stop to it, but the toll had been high. The Watchfleet had grown thin, to the point that Chang seldom heard the comforting murmur of his fellows—their mental signals broadcast instantaneously through the gravtrans buried deep in Chang’s armored shell. Once they had formed an intelligent skein, acting and reacting in concert to surround and crush all opponents. Now they were few and far between, like lonely whales hooting forlornly through the ocean’s inky depths.
When his sensors did not alert him a third time, Chang set up an automated diagnostic routine and allowed himself to slip back into his dreams.
Lucy’s skin was so pale and freckled that she burned at the merest mention of sunlight. Chang ran a hand appreciatively along his wife’s bare hip as they lay together in their bed, heavy rain drumming on the glass of the wall-length window of their tiny high-rise apartment in Hong Kong. One of hundreds of such buildings that dominated the downtown area.
“We should get up soon,” Lucy murmured.
“What for?” replied Chang. “I’m on leave through Monday. We used my military ration card to get enough to eat so that we wouldn’t have to go anywhere if we didn’t want to.”
“Yeah, but it’s midafternoon. I feel like a slug just hanging out in bed. We should get some exercise.”
Chang sighed deeply. “They work the crap out of us in Advanced Crew Training. I get more exercise in a day than you get in a week.”
“Oh yeah?” she said defiantly.
“Yeah,” Chang said, smiling as he grabbed her shoulder and turned her quickly onto her back, her breasts fluttering pleasantly on her chest. His hands began to mischievously wander up her belly as the two of them kept talking.
“You still haven’t told your father about me, have you?” Chang said, his eyes locked onto hers, but his hands possessing a mind all their own.
“No,” she said, “I don’t want to have to deal with him right now.”
“Ashamed of your Chinese husband?”
She smiled roguishly at him. “If I was, would we be doing this?”
Ping! Ping! Ping!
It had been a long time since Chang had made love to his wife, even in his memory. He reluctantly returned to wakefulness.
He scanned the diagnostic report on the sensors. As far as his internal maintenance routines could ascertain, everything checked out. So what the hell was going on?
Chang slipped his more robust active sensors into the vacuum, their huge domes revolving and twirling beyond the confines of the plated hull—Hello, anyone there?
The cold emptiness of interstellar space remained unbroken. Straight out in all directions.
Pong-pong-pong-pong-pong. Not a ghost signature. This was something solid. Several somethings.
Not members of the Watchfleet.
The attack came. From the direction Chang least expected.
Eight small craft appeared like ghosts. Using a breed of engine unknown to Chang’s signature recognition software, they moved more quickly than any ships Chang had ever encountered before. Within moments each ship had detached several smaller vessels that were arcing in on Chang’s position.
Missiles. Fast ones.
Chang retracted his sensors and slammed his internal drive into action. Treading the fabric of space like an Olympic runner charging across a track, Chang shot out of the path of the incoming projectiles, weaving and dispensing countermeasures in his wake. He used the gravtrans to hurl an electronic shout into the universe: enemy units attacking, grid omega niner niner zero one five niner zero, Watchfleet assistance needed!
But there was no answer in response.
Worse still, the missiles fired at Chang were different. Smart.
With every twist and curve that Chang threw into his trajectory, the little missiles corrected and accelerated, blowing right through his countermeasures. Like their mothercraft, they moved much faster than Chang would have thought possible. No wonder none of the other Watchfleet units were responding to his calls. They’d probably been destroyed already, leaving him alone to defend himself.
Chang felt tickles of panic running through his organic tissues.
[Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.]
Tagged with: anthology • Brad R. Torgersen • bryan Thomas Schmidt • excerpt • flying pen press • full throttle space tales • Guard Dog • Interview • Mike Resnick • military science fiction • military sf • science fiction • space battles • Space Opera
Filed under: Interviews
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