Trent Hergenrader, author of “Eskhara”

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

“Eskhara” is the story of Kiernan, a soldier who is part of a military squad deployed by the Confederation, a military organization that’s exploring the universe. As his team’s Xenologist, Kiernan’s job is to collect and report information regarding the local culture back to Confed Command. The soldiers in Kiernan’s team are more concerned for their own safety as they repel attacks from “seditionists” who want these interlopers off their planet, despite the fact that the Confed soldiers have far superior weaponry and defenses. Kiernan, then, struggles to find a balance between maintaining good relations with friendly locals as his team, some of whom deride the Xenologist’s work, aren’t afraid to fight back against the seditionists with brutal force.

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

I wrote the first incarnation of this story back in December of 2005 in response to the United States’ occupation of Iraq and the subsequent waves of attacks by insurgents. I found the scenario distressing because it was (and is) an impossible situation for our both our troops and the Iraqi citizens who want an end to the fighting. As a solider in an occupied territory, you are always a target, so how can you reconcile any desire to show the local civilians that you’re not a monster when you’re constantly under threat of attack?

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

I ran the story past some of my Clarion friends and they unanimously liked the story’s premise, but they also unanimously thought the protagonist was too much of a goody two-shoes, the locals too noble, the soldiers too monstrous, and the ending too melodramatic. I agreed with them but I wasn’t quite sure how to fix it so I let it sit.

When I saw the guidelines for Federations, I knew this story fit the bill perfectly so I dug it out and ended up rewriting it from the ground up. It sat untouched on my computer for almost three years to the day before I began rewriting.

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

I feel very strongly about my country’s foreign policy and the message our actions send to the rest of the world. The neo-imperialist policies of the Bush administration made me ashamed as an American–not ashamed to be American, but ashamed Americans voted this man into office and allowed the tragedy of the Iraq War to come to pass.

This relates back to my story told through the soldier’s perspective. You can be a decent human being with wonderful intentions, but those sentiments largely go out the window during a military conflict. I have never served in the military and obviously have never been under fire, so I find it difficult to pass judgment on the actions of the men and women who are serving our country. The only exception is the rare, clear-cut case where a soldier has shown wanton cruelty. Then of course the media runs with it, forgetting to mention that those extreme situations are bound to happen during any war. Knowing this, you’d think we’d be less eager to engage in wars, but historically that hasn’t been the case.

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

None specifically for this story, but the literature of war is an interest of mine. Whether intentionally or not, I’m sure books like All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, and others influenced this story, as well as some of the postcolonial theory I’ve read in grad school. I tend not to read or write much military science fiction, so I did need to learn some of the conventions of this sub-genre regarding weaponry and future tech, but even that came out during the editing phase rather than through deliberate research.

To learn more about Trent, visit his website.