Interview: Ethan Skarstedt

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

ES: H.A.R.R.E. is a story about kicking ass and transcendence. It’s about a small battle on a far off world that means very little to the universe, galaxy or humanity as a whole, but which means a great deal to the participants. It’s about people trying to do the right thing in a hard situation.

It’s also about fighting, killing, smashing things, and blowing stuff up as such stories so often are.

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

ES: As is so often the case, H.A.R.R.E. came from a confluence of ideas and events. The first of those, of course, was Brandon Sanderson asking me if I wanted to help him write a story featuring power armor for editor extraordinaire, John Joseph Adams. That one was easy.

The kernel of the story itself owes a great deal to a piece I read many years ago by Keith Laumer. I’m afraid I can’t remember the title of it but the meat of it has stuck with me. It features an unmanned war machine, a bolo, taking the ideas of honor and duty, with which its creators imbued it, too far, further than they intended.

The image of a machine fighting on and dying for the honor of a storied regiment, unwilling to sully the memory of those historical men, with whom it now felt a bond, by retreating, moved me a great deal. I toyed with that concept, smushed it together with a few others, and eventually came up with the story, H.A.R.R.E.

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

ES: I’m going to be boring on this one and say no, it was not particularly challenging to write. It was a blast. The hardest part was cutting down the word count, at which I failed miserably. The story clocks in at about 8700 words, more than 15% longer than the invitation called for. Sorry, John.

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

ES: I’m in the National Guard. I directly support Special Forces teams in the field and I’ve served in that capacity in both Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the unique things about working with the Special Forces is the close relationship they sometimes develop with the indigenous peoples wherever they go.

Working so closely with the SF teams gives me a very up close and personal view of this. Over the years I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for the ‘locals’. I’ve had locals risk their lives to protect mine and done the same in return.

These experiences heavily informed the emotional arc of the characters in H.A.R.R.E.

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

ES: Two combat tours and a lifetime of reading science fiction.

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?

ES: I think the appeal of power armor is a very close cousin to the appeal of flight. Who hasn’t looked at a bird and imagined how utterly cool it would be to be able to fly?

I think there are a class of people out there, myself included, who look at an Abrams tank and feel basically the same thing.

That sounds really weird now that I’ve got it outside my head.

On the other hand I also think power armor is a strong metaphor for humanity’s relationship with technology in general.

Everything we do with technology is, at its core, augmentation of ourselves. Computers remember for us and do math for us. Radar sees for us. Corkscrews grab onto corks for us. Cars run for us, etc… I think the concept of power armor concentrates all of that down to its essence.

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

ES: My favorite examples of power armor are Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which is equaled by John Steakley’s Armor, and those two are followed closely by John Ringo’s Aldenata series starting with A Hymn Before Battle.

I like these stories because they’re well told and they appeal to my inner self. I’m sure that says a great deal about me but I’m not sure what exactly. In the end, I think they appeal most because they are not primarily about the cool tech, but rather the man inside.

And I can’t end without giving Keith Laumer another plug. While I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every single one of his works, I can count those that I haven’t on the fingers of one hand. The man’s a genius.