Interview: David Barr Kirtley

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

It’s about a brilliant scientist from an Orwellian future who steals a suit of invincible power armor and travels back in time to the near future, where he establishes himself as a successful inventor and attempts to use his wealth and influence to ensure that the branching timeline he inhabits won’t become the nasty future he escaped from. He also knows that a deadly shapeshifting assassin from the future would have been sent after him, so he never takes off his armor for any reason.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

John Joseph Adams encouraged me to submit a story, and when he mentioned it to me we had just finished recording a segment for our Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast in which I’d related a (probably apocryphal) story I’d read as a kid about how when medieval crusaders traveled to the Middle East, they got so hot inside their armor that their armor would completely fill up with sweat and drown them. So I thought that if I was going to write a story about armor, it should involve that idea somehow.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was extremely challenging, yeah. I spent months shuffling around ideas until I got the basic setup in place. Originally I kept imagining that the scientist was going to be a megalomaniacal jerk who’d established himself as dictator, and no one could stand up to him because of his futuristic armor, and then there would be another character from the future who had to get close to him and assassinate him, but I just couldn’t figure out a satisfying ending to that story. Finally I got the idea to make the scientist a good guy, and then the story turned into something I cared about a lot more, and it also became a lot funnier. The ending still gave me trouble, but I think I cracked it in the end. An ending often presents itself as a choice between two predictable alternatives, and the trick is to find a “third way” that’s neither of the above but that still makes sense, which is what I think I managed to do here.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I really channeled a lot of my deep, personal feelings about being a super-genius into this story.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I did a bit of research on diamond-tipped saws and laser cutters. I also spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about prototype exoskeletons, such as the SARCOS suit.

What is the appeal of power armor/mecha? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do you think readers/viewers/gamers love it so much?

I think people are just naturally fascinated with power and uneasy with frailty. The human body is vulnerable. People don’t like that. When you look at a person, you’re aware that you could slice them with a knife, or poke their eye with a stick, or kick them in the balls, or whatever. When you look at a knight in armor you don’t see that. (Often you don’t see eyes at all, which I think is important.) But with a knight you could still bash his head with a warhammer or plunge a spear into the back of his knee or whatever. Power armor takes that one step further. That thing has no soft spots, no weak points. There’s no getting in there. It’s just pure power, in human form. I think that’s where the fascination comes from.

What are some of your favorite examples of power armor/mecha (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

No question my favorite power armor/mecha is from Palladium’s RIFTS pen and paper RPG. I love that stuff. Like the “Glitter Boy” armor that can reflect lasers, or the Coalition armored units that look like giant creepy skulls with arms and legs. Someone has got to make a movie out of that. I heard Michael Bay was working on it. But that definitely needs to happen. Now.