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Exclusive Interview: Tanya Huff on Her OPERATION ARCANA Story “Steel Ships”

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” Tanya Huff talks to Lee Hallison about her Operation Arcana story “Steel Ships”…

Tanya Huff has a degree in Radio and Television Arts and spent the late ’70s in the Canadian Naval Reserve. She has been translated into eleven languages and won the Constellation Award for her work on Blood Ties, the television series based on her five Vicki Nelson novels, and the Aurora Award for her novel The Silvered. Her recent titles include the mass market edition of The Silvered, DAW Books, November 2013, her next will be The Future Falls—a third Emporium book—out in hardcover from DAW in November of 2014. She’s currently writing a new military space opera in the ’verse of the five-book Valor series which is under option at Breakthrough Productions.

Lee Hallison: What inspired you to choose seal shapeshifters as your warriors?

Tanya Huff: I have another story called “Blood in the Water” that takes place in this same mythos—also, as it happens for a military fantasy anthology (available in my eCollection Nights of the Round Table) and when John asked for a story, I realized it would be a great place to revisit. Why selkies? Well, they’re Navy seals. When that occurred to me, I thought it was just so clever I had to use it.

Harrin is an interesting character—young and impulsive, someone Kyltin has to protect and worries about relying upon. Yet at the end he gets to be as much of a hero as the rest of them. Did you know from the start that he would rise to the occasion?

Oh yes, because “Steel Ships” isn’t just a story about a commando raid, it’s also a story about Harrin growing into his potential.

LH: There is a lot of heartbreaking but necessary self-sacrificing by the members of the seal strike teams, especially in order to save a teammate. Were you showing something you feel is necessary for the success of a military group, or a characteristic you gave your seal shapeshifters to make them unique?

TH: “Steel Ships” was based on a true story about commando raids in coracles up French rivers to take out German installations in World War II. The death toll was so high the raids were known colloquially as “Operation Suicide”. The one thing that lifts war out of the carnal house, off what’s very often pointless political fields of slaughter, are the people involved in it. Their ability to be the best of their species in the worst of situations.

Commander NcTran tells Kyltin that if they destroy the ships the enemy just might be broke enough to sue for peace.

LH: What do you think happens next, now that Kyltin’s team succeeded?

TH: I honestly don’t know. It’s complicated. It would be great if this ended the war though…

LH: What are you working on next? Will you revisit this world?

TH: I’m currently working on a new Torin Kerr novel, the first of a three book series called The Peacekeepers. Although it’s in the same mythos as my five Valor books, because things have changed so much for the characters, I’m thinking of them as a new series. Although they’ll read better if you’ve read the other five… so they’re really books six, seven, and eight. 🙂

I really love the Steel Ships world and it’s always been in the back of my mind to absorb the two stories into a novel but… no actual plans at the moment.

LH: 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?

TH: I think the appeal of military fantasy—or military fiction of any kind—has to do with the way war throws everything into high relief. Actions are extreme and emotions are heightened. The simple can turn out to be heartbreakingly complex and the complex can end up being absurdly simple. Day to day inanities get lost in the high adrenaline surge of survival.

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

TH: Everything Myke Cole writes. Myke was a serving officer in a number of American conflicts and still serves in the Coast Guard. His stories never forget that wars are about people.


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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