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Interview: Linda Nagata on Her OPERATION ARCANA Story “The Way Home”

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” Linda Nagata talks to Robyn Lupo about her Operation Arcana story “The Way Home”…

Linda Nagata is the author of The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller nominated for both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Among her other works are The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel; the novella “Goddesses,” the first online publication to receive a Nebula award; and the story “Nahiku West,” a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Though best known for science fiction, she also writes fantasy, exemplified by her “scoundrel lit” series Stories of the Puzzle Lands. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, and a programmer of database-driven websites. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

Robyn Lupo: What was it that set this story off for you? What inspired you to take soldiers and put them in a Hell?

Linda Nagata: “The Way Home” only exists because John asked me to contribute a story to the anthology that became Operation Arcana. I think he was slightly concerned though. I’m mostly a science fiction writer, so he emphasized that this needed to be fantasy, not SF. “Sure, no problem!” But I didn’t want to do a story where magic was a normal part of the world or something available to the protagonists. So I went with the classic “portal world” situation, and this is just the setting that came to me.

What struck me on re-reading the story long after it was written is that, despite the fantastical setting, and despite John’s admonition, it feels like a science fiction story. What I mean by that is all the soldiers are regular people, with no magical ability or magical technology, who’ve been plunged into a situation they can’t explain and don’t understand–and they have to figure out the rules of this world to escape it. So it’s a problem-solving story, but also a psychological story of how people react under pressure.

RL: You’ve written quite a bit about the military in an SF context; what keeps bringing you back to this sort of story?

LN: I haven’t really written that much military fiction; it’s just what I’ve done recently. It started with my novel The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller. I wrote a couple of short stories to support the novel, and then there were two sequels to finish the arc. (The Red: First Light is currently off the market, but will be republished in June by Saga Press/Simon & Schuster.) Anyway, what I find fascinating about military fiction is the confluence of so many of the themes that have always drawn me to fiction: honor, duty, action, physical challenges, moral questions, technology, and a means to examine real-world policies and politics.

RL: Throughout the story, Whitebird talks about his command in terms of his ever-shifting triage of who leaves the desert when. What prompted this narrative choice?

LN: As above, that fascination with honor and duty. Whitebird is very aware that this is his defining mission, he is being challenged to live up to his ideals and the responsibility of his command. The situation demands that he maintain control over his soldiers while making life and death decisions: Who gets to go home? And why? That’s a huge responsibility, but it’s a responsibility that any military commander might one day face. Whitebird struggles with the situation, and with himself, trying to get it right.

RL: What’s next for Linda Nagata?

LN: As I mentioned above, my novel The Red: First Light will be re-released in June by Saga Press/Simon & Schuster as The Red, with the sequel, The Trials to follow in August. If all goes according to plan, the third book will be out in the fall–so three novels in one year. That’s pretty exciting.

As I write this, I’m waiting for editorial notes on the third book. Turning in a finished draft of that is my priority, but I have in mind at least two pieces of short fiction I’d like to do this year, and I’ve started putting together ideas for my next novel. So sooner or later, there will be new fiction.


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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