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Exclusive Interview: Jonathan Maberry on His OPERATION ARCANA Story “The Damned One Hundred”

SF Signal is pleased to present a series of interviews with the authors of the military fantasy anthology, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams and available now from Baen books.

Here’s what Operation Arcana is about:

In the realms of fantasy, the battlefield is where heroism comes alive, magic is unleashed, and legends are made and unmade. From the War of the Ring, Tolkien’s epic battle of good versus evil, to The Battle of the Blackwater, George R.R. Martin’s grim portrait of the horror and futility of war, these fantastical conflicts reflect our highest hopes and darkest fears, bringing us mesmerizing visions of silver spears shining in the sun and vast hordes of savage beasts who threaten to destroy all that we hold dear.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is sounding the battle cry and sixteen of today’s top authors are reporting for duty, spinning never-before-published, spellbinding tales of military fantasy, including a Black Company story from Glen Cook, a Paksenarrion story from Elizabeth Moon, and a Shadow Ops story by Myke Cole. Within these pages you’ll also find World War I trenches cloaked in poison gas and sorcery, modern day elite special forces battling hosts of the damned, and steampunk soldiers fighting for their lives in a world torn apart by powers that defy imagination.

Featuring both grizzled veterans and fresh young recruits alike, including Tanya Huff, Simon R. Green, Carrie Vaughn, Jonathan Maberry, and Seanan McGuire, Operation Arcana is a must for any military buff or fantasy fan.

You’ll never look at war the same way again.

In this “mission debrief” Jonathan Maberry talks to Andrea Johnson about his Operation Arcana story “The Damned One Hundred”

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. He’s the author of many novels, including Assassin’s Code, Flesh & Bone Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin; and the editor of V-Wars: A Chronicle of the Vampire Wars. His nonfiction includes books on topics ranging from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1,200 magazine feature articles, 3,000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. Jonathan continues to teach the celebrated Experimental Writing for Teens class, which he created. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club, and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers’ and genre conferences.

Andrea Johnson: What inspired this story?

Jonathan Maberry: My first literary love was sword and sorcery. The first novel I ever bought was Conan the Wanderer, the Lancer edition. I bought it in 1968, when I was ten and I was dazzled by the stories by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. Later De Camp would become a friend and mentor. I also love the morally complex fantasy, like the Kane stories by Karl Edward Wagner and Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant cycle; and the politically complex Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. I’ve always wanted to write a heroic fantasy tale but the opportunity never really came up. Then John invited me into Operation Arcana. I’ve written military SF before but the opportunity was there to write a sword and sorcery military story, so I did. And the tale itself is something I’ve toyed with in my mind off and on for a while now. It’s the kind of story I could easily built into a novel.

AJ: What makes stories like this one so much fun to write?

JM: I love action stories. Most of my novels are weird science thrillers or horror thrillers. Ditto for the comics I’ve been doing for Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW. The collision of horror and action opens the door to an incredible storytelling opportunities. Action horror is a genre that covers everything from Conan the Barbarian to James Cameron’s Aliens to the hit TV series The Walking Dead. These kinds of stories put characters in situations where they have to dig deep into their soul, their courage, their loyalties and their beliefs in order to grasp the enormity of what’s happening, and that often opens the door for them to make truly heroic choices. That’s always going to allow for fresh, dynamic storytelling.

AJ: Right at the beginning of the story is a massive door, engraved with all the gods, saints, demons and heroes of Kellur’s religion. I really loved that door. Where did you get the idea for it, and why did you include it?

JM: That door was in a dream I had in tenth grade. I’ve sketched it and thought about it quite a lot, wondering what was on the other side of it. And, in “The Damned One Hundred”, it gives us a glimpse into a much larger world than is explain in that story. The door and its complex implied cosmology will absolutely make me want to return to this world to tell more stories.

AJ: Kellur’s son Kan is shocked at his father’s ultimate plan. When you started writing this story, did you know that that was how it would end for Kan?

JM: I generally write the ending of a short story first. I like to know what’s going to happen and by forcing the characters into that moment I get to see transformative moments that inform how they are on two sides of a crisis moment.

AJ: In his bargain with the Red Sisters of the Vale, Kellur guarantees his people will have a future. In the long run, how do you think his bargain will effect the populace of Argolin?

JM: They’ll survive the moment but survival, in historical terms, is relative. As I mentioned, I plan to return to Argolin to tell more tales. Maybe some set before this story, certainly some set after. Sadly, I seldom provide and easy time of it for my characters. That sad, I think the Sisters will, in fact, honor their agreement. They’ve taken this invasion personally, and they are likely to strike back in an even bigger way than is covered in this short. So, yeah, I’ll be tagging along for the ride, eager to be the scribe for those events.

AJ: What is the appeal of military fantasy? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

JM: The orderliness of the military is a challenge. We see how tough the soldiers are, how efficient and dangerous the machines are, and how strong the infrastructure is, and then we want to test it. We want to see it challenged. We want to see it fail just as much as we want to see it rise again. And, through all of it, we want to peel back the layers of the military machine to find the beating human heart at its core. At the end of the day, it’s all about the human experience, and military SF and fantasy creates a broad canvas on which we can paint very complex and insightful pictures of humans at their best and worst.

AJ: What are some of your favorite examples of military fantasy, and what makes them your favorites?

JM: Aliens is one of my favorite military SF movies, as is Game of Thrones and The Chronicles of Amber. But I have broad tastes. I love the post-apocalyptic military clashes in S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire and its sequels. I constantly re-read Michael Moorcock’s Corum, Hawkmoon and Elric novels. And I dig the more modern works of my good friends Larry Correia —Monster Hunter International and Weston Ochse –Seal Team 666. Endlessly entertaining.


About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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