Interview: David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell

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

DK: The story follows part of a reinforced Marine rifle platoon through a fight in the jungles of Colombia, as they try to repel an unexpected invasion by an armored Venezuelan force.

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

DK: When we first sat down and decided to write this, we knew we wanted to try to do something with the heroes of the story unarmored, either needing to abandon their armor for some reason, or otherwise do without it. That was the core seed of the story, and from there we moved on. From there we wanted to get into a conflict that isn’t really present on the minds of most people right now. So we looked around, decided we could have some fun with the idea of the collapse of both narco-trafficking and the petroleum market.

TB: Right, we figured a lot of the stories might dwell more on the armored part, so it was interesting to talk about what marines of the future would do in an instance where they were facing down armor, and how they would react to it.

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

DK: Perhaps the most challenging part of the story was to be able to scale back the action at least a little and provide some more meat to the actual plot. When we first conceived of the story, it was a pretty basic action plot, with a minimum of characters–especially characters outside the Marines–and pretty linear action in basically a single setting. Once we were able to start bringing in the memories of our hero, Cpl. Jabar, we could flesh out his character some more, as well one of the supporting characters, and give a little more perspective on what was going on.

TB: It’s always easy to get carried away with explosions and drama, but in written narrative, the readers care about the character. So we really wanted to get our readers into Jabar’s head so that all the context of the fighting made sense. As a result, we spent a great deal of time in the areas outside of the story that the reader doesn’t fully see, but we try to hint at, so that Jabar came across as a real soldier in a real sticky situation where one’s actions had an impact on a complex geopolitical situation.

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

DK: The main character, Cpl. Jabar, leads a small detachment from a Marine weapons platoon–the Marines whose every day job is working with crew-served weapons, like machine guns, mortars, and anti-tank rockets. My six years in the Marines were spent in just such a platoon (as a machine gunner, not anti-tank assault), and we really were the red-headed step-children of the Marine infantry, so a lot of this story was trying to call up that experience and channel it into something fun and readable.

TB: Dave’s experience here was critical to getting these details right, so we leaned on that a lot. My side of the story was setting it somewhere that illustrated the complexity of a changing geo-political world. I grew up in the Caribbean, and America has an outsized impact on geopolitical events down there, so I was interested in trying to tell a story about that.

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

DK: A good deal of it, at least for me, came from that sort of “ongoing research” that never really stops–taking in all the bits and pieces of what’s going on in the world and lashing them together into a story. A lot of the Marine-specific stuff came, again, from my own experiences as a Marine in a rifle company’s weapons platoon, which was a sort of conscious short-cut we took with this, writing, specifically and intensely, what I know.

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?

DK: There’s something, especially in powered armor that multiplies direct physical effort, that makes it appealing. It gives us the potential to achieve super-human power, but with our own bodies, our own actions in the driver seat, rather than translated through some kind of control interface. That is, if I jump in a suit, I jump higher than I could without one. I could get in an elevator and ride it up higher than I could jump, but that’s me pressing buttons, isolating myself from the raw, physical act of jumping.

Likewise with mecha, you have something that generally mimics animal movement, it seems more alive, more visceral than a tank. The mecha itself, then, can seem like either a feral beast if it’s your enemy, or a tamed and loyal companion if your friend. It takes a lot more imagination to invest personality in something like a tank, than in a mecha which shares more features with animals.

TB: The ability to be somewhat superhuman thanks to technology, in a way that is very believable in a physical way, I think, has appeal. Here, put this suit on and become a mechanized Godzilla. Or superhero. I love it because it takes super heroism and makes something available to any grunt, or fighter, thanks to the power of technology.

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

DK: I think the Valkyries from the Macross Saga (or, as I first encountered them, the “veritech” fighters on Robotech) have to be hands-down favorite, in no small part for being the first mecha I ever really encountered in media. A lot of people have done a lot of really cool things with mecha and powered armor, both before and since, but being the first makes it kind of special. Beyond that, I think there’s also something extremely cool about the multi-purpose nature of the Valkyries, and how that transformative nature allows them to fight space battles like fighter planes, but then also square off personally with giant enemy aliens more like infantry.

TB: I first came across it in the movie Robot Jox, which I just loved. It was 1993 when I saw it on video, I was 14. I always loved the really big mech a like that. I don’t know if it’s my favorite, it’s my memories of it at 14 that are my favorite. I’ve purposely refused to rewatch it since that one time I saw it, as I know it’s going to be dated and horribly awkward to rewatch, but there you go.