From Michael J Martinez: I’m a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a professional writer and journalist, including stints at The Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com. After telling other people’s stories for the bulk of my career, I’m happy that I can now be telling a few of my own creation. I’m a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
When not being a husband, parent or writer, I enjoy beer and homebrewing, cooking and eating, the outdoors and travel. If you’re curious about our travels, my wife does a far better job of describing our adventures, so check out her blog at katrinawoznicki.com.
As the publication of the third and final novel of the series, The Venusian Gambit, draws near in May 2015, Michael kindly answered some of my questions about the universe of the series, and the final volume in particular.
Paul Weimer: “For those readers unfamiliar with you and what you do, who are you?”
Michael J Martinez: Well, I’m relatively new to the fiction game, and still rather amazed and humbled I’ve gotten as far as I have. My debut came out in 2013, and now I’ve finished off the trilogy with The Venusian Gambit. I’ve also written a novella and I’m starting to explore other stuff, from new novels to short stories. It’s been an incredible ride. And in the meantime, I have a day job in communications, a great wife, amazing kid, house in the ‘burbs – very normal stuff. I think the neighbors and the folks at work are amused to have a SF/F novelist in their midst.
PW: “What’s the elevator pitch for the Daedalus Series?”
MJM: Pretty simple, really: Sailing ships in space! Or Master and Commander meets Star Wars. That, I think, gets at the feel of the books, though they’re more complex that that, what with the collision of two dimensions, a look into our future, ancient aliens, alchemy, all that stuff. Elevator pitches aren’t always plot summaries – they’re the start of a conversation that the other party ideally wants to continue outside the elevator. “Sailing ships in space” tends to produce that.
PW: Indeed, there are a lot of elements fused together and spread over the three novels. What was the seed that blossomed into an idea that you’ve carried through three novels and a novella?
MJM: The Disney movie Treasure Planet. It was probably one of Disney’s worst animated features from the pre-Pixar days. But the images of sailing ships in space spoke to me. I saw Master and Commander shortly after that, in 2003, and that sent me scurrying back to O’Brian’s novels, and Forester’s Hornblower books as well, with the notion of marrying that real intense Napoleonic Era naval literature with space opera. It was something that stuck with me ever since, though I really didn’t make a serious attempt at writing a novel until 2010. I didn’t honestly think I had it in me to write something of that length and scope.
PW: So, the images of sailing ships in space explains the Alchemical half of the novels. Where does Jain’s timeline come into it? Why mix the two?
MJM: You know, I suppose I could’ve written the series with just the Napoleonic Era timeline, but there was something really appealing about juxtaposing that fantastical world with a future of space exploration that could be our own. On a creative level, I liked having Jain’s future stand in as a reader proxy, to see and react to this alchemically fueled universe with fresh eyes. And then as I wrote it, Jain and her world became a fulfilling and integral piece of the story, one that expanded each time I revised. I like the dynamic the two dimensions bring to the table, and I think it worked out well.
PW: The series really follows the efforts of a single being to escape his Phantom Zone like imprisonment, in a try-fail cycle sort of approach. How much of Althotas story was in your mind
from the beginning? How has it changed as the series has been written?
MJM: Althotas was there from the very beginning. The actual, historical Cagliostro claimed to have gained arcane knowledge from a “secret master” named Althotas – a name cribbed from the Egyptian god Thoth. So when I researched the notable alchemists (and con artists) of the period, that tidbit stood out like a sore thumb. Really, the whole notion of ancient aliens from other worlds stemmed from discovering Althotas. It was just such a perfect set-up. This is why I love writing historical fantasy, because actual history is full of possibilities.
So Althotas became the alien, the whisperer in the dark for Cagliostro, using the alchemist to help free him from his prison. In The Daedalus Incident, he’s very much the big reveal at the end, the big baddie. In the next two books, I was able to give him more nuance, make him representative of a fallen civilization, bent on vengeance against the Xan for destroying his world and his people. That felt good, because it’s rare to find truly evil people who revel in their depravity. Althotas sees himself as a champion against the oppression of the Xan. He’s really just misunderstood, at least in his mind.
PW: Althotas the imprisoned Martian seeking revenge…the duty bound Commander Jain…the rise of the career of Thomas Weatherby. Who was the most fun character to write? What character changed the most in your own mind and original conception as we go from Daedalus to Venusian Gambit?
MJM: Well, those are two different questions with two different answers. Dr. Andrew Finch — the Maturin to Weatherby’s Aubrey, and deliberately so — was the most fun to write, hands down. He started as a dissolute, drug-addled mess and took many interesting turns from there. He’s been a ship’s alchemist, an explorer, a spy, a confidant and an antagonist at times, and in the end…well, no spoilers here, but it was a good arc.
As for which character changed the most, that’s a tough one, because I think they all went through the wringer through the course of three books and thirty years (or 3 years, in the case of the 22nd century crew). I first thought of Finch again, but while he wore many hats, he was still the same guy at his core — a good man who’s loyal to his friends but blinded by his passions. So I think Stephane Durand probably changed the most, going from a half-hearted academic to a truly dedicated explorer and scientist — and, of course, dealing with being possessed by an alien intelligence. That kind of affects a guy, both during and after. Plus, he fell in love, and nothing is really the same after that, right?
I’ve really grown to like all my characters, even the bad guys, over the course of this series. These are my first books, so I don’t know whether other authors feel that way about their work. I don’t think I’ll miss them — I’ve told their story, and I feel good about how it all turned out — but I’m kind of proud of them in an odd way. And I feel bad for some of them, because I wasn’t always nice to them.
PW:One of the features of the series, especially the Alchemical side, is the Planetary Romance feel of the novels. The Daedalus Incident takes us to Mars, The Enceladus Crisis to a moon of Saturn, and in the Venusian Gambit, an eponymous trip to that planet. What were your influences and inspirations for those destinations and the others you take us to in between?
MJM: The Known Worlds, as they’re called in the series, owe a huge debt to our earliest ideas about the planets, along with a huge dose of pulp sensibility. Canals on Mars and jungles on Venus are classic tropes, and I very much enjoyed playing with them in the series.
The other thing that informed the Known Worlds was classical alchemy. Taking the four Galilean moons of Saturn and assigning them one of the four classical elements seemed natural, as did having the Known Words correspond to the spheres of Tree of Life.
And, of course, alchemy and ancient mysticism informed the plots of all three books, which is why you see the pairing of the Book of the Dead and the Emerald Tablet in the second and third books.
PW:One of the pieces of the Known Worlds that I picked up on is (a la Philip Jose Farmer’s classic Two Hawks from Earth) the lack of a Western Hemisphere on their Earth, transferring the American colonies to a Jovian Moon. Why do it that way?
MJM: I think the biggest reason I erased two continents was because I really wanted to give the people of the Known Worlds a reason for leaving Earth. If North and South America remained on Earth, rather than having analogues scattered across the other planets, then even if you could leave Earth in a sailing ship, why would you? Those two continents, historically, were seen as a bonanza of natural resources for Europeans — never mind, of course, that there were people actually living there. It would still be simpler to sail to the New World than off-world. And I wanted sailing ships in space. So those two continents, or pieces thereof, were moved to other worlds, at least thematically. Ganymede became the eventual United States, for example, while the jungles of Venus served as a placeholder for South America. (Given that there are more Known Worlds than the continents I removed, there’s even more to enjoy. I don’t think Io, for example, has an analogue in our real world.) In the end, it was expediency in making the setting logical.
PW: With this trilogy now done, what do you take away from the experience? How will you approach your next novel differently?
MJM: The experience of writing and publishing the Daedalus trilogy has been an incredible ride. These are my first novels, and I could write an entire catalog of experiences that will inform everything else I do from here on out. Just the process of getting a novel done, then seeing if it was a repeatable phenomenon, writing on deadline, working with agents and publishers — it’s all been an education and, thankfully, quite a lot of fun. I’m still slightly amazed that the books have been as well received as they have. I feel very fortunate.
I feel like writing the Daedalus trilogy has filled up my writing toolbox a lot more, and I’m eager to apply what I’ve learned to new ideas and new settings. I’m hoping to go a little darker in future work, a little more morally gray, perhaps even a little scarier. I think I have the chops to pull it off now, and I can’t wait to find out. But I’ll always look back on this series very fondly — it was an idea a decade in the making, and to have it turn out as well as it has, well…again, I’m a lucky fellow. It’s been a blast. I hope folks enjoy the way the trilogy wraps up.
PW What’s next for you? What horizons are you setting sail toward next?
MJM: I’m pretty fortunate in that regard. The Daedalus series has been very well received — The Venusian Gambit received a starred review in Publishers Weekly — and that makes whatever comes next easier to do. So for that, I’m really grateful to everyone who read and supported Daedalus!
I’ve done a few short stories that have been accepted – I have one coming out in Word Horde’s Cthulhu Fhtagn! anthology that I’m incredibly excited about. Lovecraft has always been on my authorial wish list, so to have this story in there is such a fanboy moment for me. I also have another short story sale that hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s in a similar vein – contributing something to worlds that were very formative for me.
All that said, I love writing novels, and I’m working on a new project that I think has the potential to be awesome. It’s historical fantasy, but very, VERY different from the Daedalus series. If all goes well, I hope to tell everyone about it soon.
But really, it goes back to the readers. I’m able to spread my wings a bit and try new things because folks really took to the Daedalus trilogy, and for that, I’m immensely grateful!
PW: Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. Where else can readers find you, in the virtual as well as the physical world (Convention appearances, signings and the like)
MJM: Thanks for having me, Paul! You and everyone at SF Signal have been wonderful over the past few years!
Online, I have lots of things going on as we get close to launching The Venusian Gambit. I’ll be on the PW Radio podcast May 8, and I’m doing a Reddit AMA on r/Fantasy May 14. There will also be guest posts and giveaways and other fun stuff, and michaeljmartinez.net is a great place to start.
Offline, I’m honored to be a guest at Phoenix Comicon on May 28-31, which I’m really looking forward to! The night before, May 27, I’m part of a huge mega-signing in Scottsdale with the likes of Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, Beth Cato, Jason M. Hough, Sam Sykes, Django Wexler…it’s seriously insane. Going to be crazy fun.
On June 27, I’ll be participating in the Vermont SF Writers Series sponsored by GeekMountainState.com (where you can go to get details). I don’t live there anymore, but Andrew Liptak agreed that I remained enough of a Vermonter to participate. I still have woodchuck cred, which makes me happy.
I’ll also be at DragonCon again in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. It’ll be my second time there; last year was such a great time. And there will be other stuff, no doubt; again, my blog will have the latest and greatest. And I tweet a lot when I’m out and about, so check out @mikemartinez72 for that, too!
PW: Thank you so much, Mike!