Jason M. Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) is a former 3D Artist and Game Designer (Metal Fatigue, Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction, and many others). Writing fiction became a hobby for him in 2007 and quickly turned into an obsession. He started writing The Darwin Elevator in 2008 as a Nanowrimo project, and kept refining the manuscript until 2011 when it sold to Del Rey along with a contract for two sequels. The trilogy, collectively called the The Dire Earth Cycle, will be released in the summer of 2013. He lives in San Diego, California with his wife and two young sons.
Nick Sharps: Sell me the Dire Earth Cycle in as few words as possible.
Jason Hough: I’m terrible at the elevator pitch for The Darwin Elevator (oh, the irony!), so I’ll tell you how my agent pitched it to publishers: “It’s like if Scalzi wrote Firefly.”
NS: What inspired this series? Are there any particular books, movies, or television shows that were on your mind as your wrote it?
JH: Firefly, certainly. When it was cancelled I found I simply wanted more stuff like it. And they say you should write something you want to read, so I suppose that’s what I did.
Despite my agent’s pitch above, though, I don’t think my style is very similar to Scalzi’s. Nevertheless, I did draw a lot of inspiration from his novels in the sense that they were accessible and fun to read. I feel like he opened the door for this kind of science fiction to be acceptable in book form. TV and Film has had it for a while and with huge success, but for a long time there I’d felt like in novel form the genre had largely alienated all but the hard-SF reader. I’m sure that’s not strictly true, there were probably plenty of accessible books out there, but Scalzi seems like the one who really lit the signal fire. Old Man’s War was truly a beacon for me, screaming, “come back to the genre, there’s still fun to be had!”
But I suppose those are the obvious answers. In terms of what inspired the book specifically, my aim was really to create a world that was equal parts The Stand and 2001, and tie them together in a convincing way. At the same time, I wanted to write the kind of sci-fi book that you’d hand to someone who normally avoids the genre. A gateway drug to all the other (I’ll happily admit it) heady stuff waiting farther in. It worked on my wife, so I consider it a huge success already.
NS: Has your work with video games influenced the creation of the Dire Earth Cycle in any way? What type of game do you think would best represent the series?
JH: Not in any deliberate way. I mean, it didn’t start out as a game idea that instead became a novel. But my work as a game designer did influence my approach to the writing process. A game design is to a game as an outline is to a story, and I outlined obsessively.
If this was ever made into a game, I hope it would be a sandbox-style RPG. Many of the characters in the story are scavengers who venture out beyond Darwin’s protective aura to find…anything, really. Whatever people need to stave off collapse a little longer. I can easily see a game world where players take on this roll, venturing out on scavenger missions and dealing with Darwin’s black market intrigues, while all along being drawn into the inevitable larger story of the mysterious aliens who built the Darwin Elevator in the first place.
NS: Why pick Darwin, Australia as the primary setting?
JH: I needed a location near the equator, because otherwise a space elevator doesn’t work. So I was spinning around a globe, scanning all the places exactly on the equator, but my eyes were drawn down to Darwin instantly. The title The Darwin Elevator flew into my brain and knew it was the right choice despite being a little off the line. I liked it partly because of the extra connotation the name brings, and partly because it’s a great melting-pot location: an English speaking population that, in the backstory, is flooded with refugees from all of its varied neighbors. Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, New Zealand, and so on. There’s tons of variety in that corner of the world and that appealed to me.
NS: Reading about The Darwin Elevator brought to mind some of sci-fi’s most iconic symbols – the Death Star, the Star Gate, the Enterprise, TARDIS, etc. Did you set out in search of iconography or did it just happen?
JH: It just happened, I suppose. I never really thought about it, not consciously at least.
NS: Do you think the Dire Earth Cycle would make a better SyFy series in the vein of Battlestar Galactica or perhaps a J.J. Abrams directed blockbuster?
JH: It’d be fun to see the books visualized, as written, in movie form (though I’d pick a different director, personally). First person to tweet me the word snowball gets a signed copy of book one. Now, back to the interview. However, I think I’d prefer a TV series that used the extra breathing space of that medium to very deliberately expand on the books. If a season is 20 hours of material, spend 10 of it covering what’s in the books and 10 sprinkling in new stuff. Make it very clear that everyone will get the story told in the books, but fans will find something new to enjoy as well.
NS: Do you have plans for the series past these three books? Would you like to try writing something else, or perhaps take a break for a while?
JH: I’d love to keep going with this, and without spoiling anything I think the trilogy ends with the opportunity to continue but in a wholly different vein. You’ll see what I mean. It’s important to me that if there are more Dire Earth books they’re not just more of the same.
However, that all depends on how well these three books do. In the meantime, I’m writing Dire Earth short stories to supplement the books, and plotting out a handful of unrelated concepts I hope to pitch.
NS: What sci-fi universe would you least like to be born in?
JH: 1984… Oh, wait, fictional? Atlas Shrugged.
NS: If the Dire Earth Cycle were an ice cream flavor which would it be?
JH: Neapolitan. Distinct flavors crammed together in the same carton that still somehow work together.
NS: Any final words for potential readers?
JH: I’m not much of a self-promoter, so I’ll just say: keep reading. Read things both inside and out of your comfort zone, and most importantly: pass on the joy of reading to those younger than yourself.