Monday, January 14, 2013

Space Pirates, Princesses, and a multi-galaxy federation: An Interview With Science Fiction Author Erik Martin Willén

1) Tell us about your book.

NASTRAGULL: Pirates is a sprawling science fiction epic in the classic style of such masters as E.E. "Doc" Smith, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. Van Vogt, spiced with an edgy modern sensibility. Action-packed and thrilling, it combines elements of military SF, traditional space opera, dystopian sci-fi, and the sociological explorations of writers such as Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. LeGuin. At heart, though, it's a love story -- the tale of two literally star-crossed lovers, and their herculean efforts to move heaven and Earth (sometimes literally) to find each other again and again as circumstances rip them apart.

2) What inspired this book?
What really inspired me to finally write this story was when my younger sister Sofia died from Lupus at the age of 24. This is a story that I've kept coming back to since I was very young. But I never had the patient to write the entire story. At first I finally wrote several parts as screen plays for the motion picture, but what got me writing “seriously” was when Sofia died.

3) Please tell us a bit about your main characters.

Hundreds of characters populate the universe of this novel, though by far the most important are the two main characters, Alec and Alexa. Alec, the Heir Apparent; Young Alec af Hornet is the son of one of the
leaders of the Nastasturus Federation, a more-or-less democratic,human-dominated polity that spans several galaxies. Alec lives in a universe populated not only by humans but also by hundreds of other species of exotic aliens, hybrids, and human-based transgenics, where history can be coherently traced back tens of thousands of years. His is a vibrant, even violent milieu, with thousands of planets and cultures constantly striving to achieve the upper hand in commerce, warfare, and life in general. Quarter is rarely asked, and less often given. Every possible political system and mix of cultural mores has been tried, and universal war has knocked most of the inhabited planets back down into barbarism at least once.

Alec is very much a product of thousands of generations of evolution within this harsh setting. A clever, resourceful young man, he knows what he wants, and is both intelligent and strong enough to get it...usually. He can be as ruthless and cruel as necessary, but this hard-edged facet of his personality is offset by a deep-seated integrity and a firm sense of right and wrong. He also has a strong sense of justice and a penchant for
vengeance, which occasionally overrides his moral imperatives -- as pirate king Zuzack, and others, discover to their pain and sorrow. Alec's is a dominant personality, and he is rarely able to give way on
anything he truly believes in. A passionate individual, Alec is a steadfast friend and tender-hearted lover; but his passion can also transmute into a relentless determination to achieve whatever goals he sets for himself. He's also a natural-born tactician, able to plan and strategize as easily as most people draw breath. As a cadet at military school, he combined these talents to bring a quick end to a local brushfire war, and earned the brevet rank of General as a result. 

As the story opens, he's on his way back to his home planet, Tallas, to graduate and attend officer training school, so that he can fully earn his brevet rank. When the transport he's sharing with his cadet squad is taken by pirates, Alec proves that he's a consummate actor as well, pretending to be cowed by
his captors (to the disgust of his compatriots) until he can manage to escape; only his strong sense of self and desire for revenge help him survive the brutal treatment at the hands of his captors. When he does
manage to escape, with Alexa's help, he rescues and takes with him the former Captain of his transport, Nikko Behl -- along with an emperor's ransom of loot, which he claims as salvage. Later, he proves his leadership skills by recruiting a personal army, leasing a Marengan frigate, and taking off to rescue his captive friends before the pirates kill them -- or worse, eat them.

Alec also has a talent for making enemies, as he proves when he mutilates Zuzack in reprisal for brutally murdering one of his friends and mistreating Alexa, before making off with one of the largest fortunes in the known universe. This sets Zuzack and his brother, Horsa, after Alec and his crew in an obsessive chase that results in a space battle in which millions of people -- most of them innocent civilians -- are killed. Alec also manages to hunt down Alexa, who has been sold to Zoris af Sun, a depraved "artist" who wants to kill Alexa slowly during a cannibalistic ritual -- thus earning Zoris' everlasting enmity as well. During that battle and rescue, Alec is able to hold his own and save his crew by making use of experimental technologies from both Nastasturus and Florencia, a neighboring federation, in an astounding manner that, perhaps, no one else alive in the universe could match.

As the story progresses, Alec becomes aware of an odd voice inside his head that seems to be trying to communicate with him. While he's convinced that he isn't mentally ill, he has no way of what it's trying to tell him. Physically, Alec is young and fit, a fairly standard young human male, if somewhat handsomer than most. He does, however, display a physical trait that was thought to have been eradicated from the human genome thousands of years previously: he has dark blue eyes, a defining characteristic of the terrifying Silver Guard who helped bring civilization low in the last Universal War. Those who know him well believe that it's just a random mutation, but there are tantalizing secrets that Alec af Hornet is not precisely what he seems. And when he falls into the hands of the vile Zoris af Sun, all bets are off...

Alexa, the Pirate Princess; Alexa, a dark-haired, golden-skinned beauty, was sold into slavery by her siblings when she was a young child. Considering the trauma she's been through since, she has little recollection of where she came from or who she was before; all she knows is that her siblings hated her. From the moment that she fell into the hands of the pirate Zuzack and his evil shipmates, she's been violently degraded and mistreated -- while simultaneously being groomed as one of Zuzack's adopted daughters.

Given her background, Alexa is unsurprisingly mercenary in nature: she looks after herself first, her friends second, and that's about it. This uncomplicated world view serves her well until she encounters Alec. For the
first time in her life she falls head-over-heels in love, and it's clear that the feeling is mutual. Despite being under the constant eye of Zuzack and his minions, she and a friend, Nina, help arrange his escape.
In a sense, Alexa is a rough, uncultured female version of Alec. Though physically and mentally strong -- much more so than most -- she lacks the moral compass that usually guides Alec's behavior, and is capable of some truly appalling behavior. She enjoys life when she can, and however she has to...even if that doesn't fit with the cultural traditions of the rest of the universe. She's also remarkably lusty; though to her, sex is little more than a tool and a way to have a little fun. This often puts her crossways with Alec, who considers sex an expression of his deep love for her. It takes him a long while to realize that her reaction to sex is a survival
mechanism that kept her from going insane during the long years of rape and mistreatment after her family sold her into slavery.

Alexa does have some level of morality beyond that which she requires to survive; for example, she refuses to go through with the cannibalistic ritual which would have made her a full member of the pirate crew, and she reats her own slave, Nina, more as a sister (and sometime lover) than as property. But above all else, Alexa is adaptable, at least to the brutal, unpredictable life of the pirate. She does what she has to in order to
survive, whether that means killing someone in battle, or acquiescing to the depraved advances of her adoptive "father." She does stand up for herself when she's capable of doing so, and won't take crap off anyone if she can avoid it; but she's still flexible enough not to shatter herself on the will of anyone physically or politically stronger than she is. This doesn't mean that she isn't willing to get her own back whenever she can arrange it, however.

Ironically, Alexa's adaptability is tested by civilized society. While she's grateful for her rescue, she finds it difficult to fit in -- and to understand what it is, precisely, that Alec and others expect of her. She leaps wholeheartedly into the concept of freedom when Nadia explains it to her, making some terrible mistakes when she tries to assert her personal sovereignty...mistakes that nearly destroy what she's found with Alec more than once. At heart Alexa is still a scared, hurt little girl, so from the outside, her behavior seems erratic at best; but one thing she can never be is tamed, and it's this, among other things, that inexorably draw her and Alec together, over and over again.

4) Please tell us a bit about how you approached your universe/world-building.

I allow for my imagination and creative thinking to take control and I never hold back when I write. I try to avoid what other authors or film makers have created in the past, however, sometimes that can be a challenge. My goal is for the reader to see pictures while reading, through my writing while using their own creative imagination.

5) Please tell us about your literary influences.

What or perhaps whom has influenced my writing most are several great authors (in no particular order) such as; Bernard Cornwell, Simone Scarrow, Stephenie Meyer, Wilbur Smith and Robert Jordan. There are several more but these authors have definitely influenced my work.

6) This book is the first in the series. How many books will be in the series? Please tell us a bit about them.

I've already written the second and the third novel and the complete outline for the entire story. There will be 10 books in this series. The story will take a few different “turns” and on the last paragraph and sentence of part ten the entire story will be combined as one? It’s very different and, I don’t know of any other author who has tried this approach when writing a story with several different episodes.

7) Where can readers learn a bit more about you and your book?

For now the readers can learn more about me and my writing on the Amazon,
Good Reads and ask David – well of course your blog. Eventually I will write
more information about the story development and some about myself in the
future. The book is available on kindle and in January (2013) it will also
be available on paperback.


Thanks, Erik

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