And now, after several months traveling with Kal through the metaxia, of witnessing some of his best and worst moments...at times considering shaking the overly young life out of him...it's time to hear from the author about what going on this journey was like. Here is some insight from the up close and personal perspective of the individual through which alternate Earth sojourner Kal Anders expresses himself.
1. How did you come upon Kal? What inspired his voice to come forward?
Voyage started a very long time ago. I was in high school, and my friend Matt wanted me to join a fantasy writing forum. Being me, I insisted that I would have a science fiction character who used technology to create the illusion of magic. These were Kal's first stories. I would write forum post-sized short stories and submit them to the forum community. Other people would write their characters and everyone's characters would interact. Somewhere along the line, I started writing Kal's stories down offline. Before long the short stories piled up into a novel. Then I had more than a novel. The first draft for Voyage Along the Catastrophe of Notions was 400 pages single spaced in Word. I went through a lot of subsequent drafts too, but it wasn't until two years ago that I realized I'd accumulated so many short stories that I needed multiple books rather than one massive tome.
Kal has always had a lot in common with me. We're both swimmers, and we're both programmers. We've both got a streak of moralism and our hearts break when we see people suffering. However, we're different in important ways. Kal's much more athletic than me, for one thing. He also had a very different kind of childhood, though I'm going to have to remain tight-lipped about that one for the time being. And Kal's a lot more impulsive too. I imagine him as a kind of haphazard, less obsessive programmer than I am. His code is probably not as strictly formatted as mine. Though I imagine we're both just as opinionated about our respective coding standards.
2. What inspired you to write Voyage in episodes and has a novelized version crossed your mind?
Voyage has always been in this format. It started out as a sequence of connected stories that paint the picture of a young man utterly bewildered by his environment. Every time he thinks he might have a handle on what's going on and how society works, he's forced to upend his life and continue the journey, taking him somewhere completely new. The episodic structure lends itself to just such a journey because I need to be able to change everything radically between episode breaks.
3. Tria seems to be a source of conscience or judgment for Kal throughout their travels. What role did you intend or think that Tria would play and how did that pan out in execution?
One of my favorite writers, J Michael Straczynski, who created the TV series Babylon 5, once said that there's a bit of himself in every single one of his characters. I think that's definitely true for my trio of main characters in Voyage.
I dumped my sense of adventure and my impulsiveness as a teen, my desire for exploration and adventure, into Kal.
To Tria I gave my love of languages, all my cerebral qualities, and every bit of my (admitted lacking) social graces. This is why it's Tria who always notices social dynamics first. Kal's hopelessly oblivious, probably even more so than I was at his age.
To Ludo... Well, I'm going to wait a few books before I talk about him in this regard.
4. Kal goes for several early episodes seeming as if he and his youth could be his own worst enemy, and maybe that's still the case in part, but then we meet an actual antagonist who becomes a persistent opponent. Did you see that coming any more than Kal did? What do you think is the most important challenge Ludo poses for Kal?
Voyage is split into five books--Embarkation, Windbound, Adrift, Wake, and Tempest--each consisting of fourteen episodes. I've known the rough shape, the mood, the tenor of all those books for almost two years. The shape of the "big arc" is largely unchanged from the first draft I wrote a decade ago, even though all the details have shifted.
Ludo has definitely been there from the beginning, and his form of antagonism actually compliments what's going on with Kal, even though it may seem like the two distract from one another right now. I think you'll see what I mean by the end of Windbound. Kal's worst enemy, going forward, will still be his own naivete, his own arrogance, his lack of self-knowledge. It's going to bite him, and it's going to bite hard.
I have to be extremely careful what I say about Ludo right now. What I will say is that, in his eponymous episode, he does hint at the true source of his anger. There are characters in the Voyage universes, some who you've met, some you haven't, who are aware of certain events that took place before the beginning of Embarkation, and they're not too happy with the decisions Kal has made.
I think it goes without saying that the series will eventually expound upon said events.
5. Throughout the Embarkation series we almost never leave Kal's point of view. In the episode "Corporeal" we see multiple points of view before returning solely to Kal. How did that decision come about?
I know that the typical writer advice is to keep PoV style as consistent as possible throughout a novel. I got this advice early on in Voyage.
And I decided to throw it out.
I feel that with episodic story telling, the whole point is to shake things up between episodes, to let each episode stand alone to a larger degree than chapters in a book. Otherwise, why call them episodes?
In Corporeal specifically, the tension between Nezim and Zeemz and between Zeemz and Liza were central to the major themes of family responsibility and brotherhood that, I feel, added depth to Kal and Tria's relationship. Within the context of the episode, I feel it works. And I decided that, since I'm writing episodes, I get to be less concerned with its style "conflicting" with surrounding episodes.
I'm excited to shake it up even more in Windbound.
Something you'll notice immediately in Windbound is that Tria takes a much more active role. I foreshadowed this in Embarkation #14, where Tria actually takes the bulk of the credit for both grounding Kal, keeping him focused, and enabling his rescue. Far from running off and keeping to himself, Tria will be much, much more actively involved in the events that are about to unfold. He gets a Windbound episode exclusively to his point of view, and there's another episode where the reader will get to follow his perceptions as he moves about inside Kal's computer filesystem. He's a lot of fun, and I honestly can't wait to release Windbound.
6. From a reader perspective, Kal seems to come from a near Utopia. Is that actually the case, or does Kal's youthful perspective idealize "home" versus these alternate Earths?
Yes to both questions. Almost. I wouldn't call Kal's Earth a utopia. I'd call it more socially advanced. If you dropped people from 1,000 years ago into our society and got them to comprehend how we live, how we're organized socially, how we treat each other, they'd think we live in a utopia (if they came from Europe). But we don't. The severity of many of the problems we deal with is just reduced, and our society enables us and supports us in dealing with problems better.
For imagining Kal's future, I started from us and gave us a very hard jolt to our collective ego. I'm of the opinion that humanity is approaching a crisis point. We're on the verge of permanently altering our biosphere into something we can't survive in.
Being the perpetual optimist, I decided to imagine a future in which technology enabled our physical salvation, but social development allowed us to regulate the massive social responsibility that came with it, a responsibility we're massively failing at now: not being dicks to one another.
I'm sort of treading into Insomnium territory here, but this is really the theme that underpins all of my writing. Over the course of my life, I've had a lot of opportunities to reflect on what really matters to me. When I think about those things, I invariably come to the same conclusions.
Some day in the not too distant future, probably in 30 to 50 years (hopefully not sooner), I'll be dead. I won't exist anymore. I could collect a lot of money or physical stuff, but I'm not sure what good that would do me since I have to die eventually anyway. If some software I create or some story I write becomes really popular, that'll go away too. I suppose it's possible that one or both of those things could persist after my death for the rest of human existence. But, even if that happened, I'm also highly skeptical that humanity will go on forever. Physics imposes certain limitations on our travels that I believe we will never overcome. We can't realistically escape our solar system and colonize another planet. I think that, unless we really decide to live phenomenally in tune with our environment, in another couple million years, there won't be any more human beings on Earth. But maybe, just maybe, I'm wrong about us surviving. Even if we can keep ourselves going on our planet, our local star will simply get too hot. In five billion years or so, our sun will go nova and vaporize our home. Everything we are now, everything we've ever created, everything we've done, every social system, every technology, every piece of paper, every word, will be gone.
I know of only one thing I can do on this planet now that really matters. I can forge emotional connections with people. I can enrich their lives. I can help them. I can show compassion. I can show kindness. I can open my heart. I can (and hope to) write at least one story that resonates with other people's souls.
In the meantime, I see no reason for us to fight about resources. I see no reason why my supposed "freedom" means someone in my society has to go without proper medical care, or food, or shelter. Freedom means having food, water, shelter, clothing, health, and a life unburdened by societal oppression. I hate to break it to the libertarians, but your ability to horde money (also called "power") is not a part of your freedom. No one in a democracy gets the "freedom" to behave like a dictator. That's just stupid.
Don't be a dick.
7. Which is your favorite episode of Embarkation and what about it stands out from your perspective as the author?
Now that Embarkation's finally complete, I'm so happy I can say this: I LOVE Benevolence.
The idea originally came to me at Seattle's Frye Art Museum. The featured artist had created all these little, broken clay people with bones made of wood. There was even a giant procession of them at the feet of a towering wooden figure holding a bunch of glittering stones. That set my imagination on fire, and Benevolence was born.
When I have an idea for any episode, there's the idea in my head, and then there's the episode on paper. Usually I get between 70 and 80 percent of the intent in my head onto the page when I write a story. Sometimes it falls short, and I have to rewrite portions (Requiescence and Taboo both fell into this category--they both received major rewrites before publication), but once in a great while, you get a story that just feels like it matches your conception completely, a 100 percent match.
I've heard that readers can't tell the difference, that this is solely a writerly perception, but I love the feeling of being "on fire" when I'm writing all the same. It's a rare and wonderful thing.
8. What's in the future for Kal and Tria? Will the next "season" pick up immediately following? Will there be a passage of time?
Windbound picks up almost immediately where Embarkation left off.
Kal and Tria land on alternate Earth fresh from their encounter with Ludo, and a bunch of Ludo's nanites tag along for the ride. You'll have to wait to see what ensues. I think savvy readers will pick up on the tone shift right away. It's also a nice transitional episode for Tria. Once again, he'll assert himself and take a more direct role in the episode's events.
9. As the author, what do you think is the most important thing Kal has accomplished thus far?
Kal has started to understand the world he lives in. He's taken a lot of small first steps in the right directions. Corporeal: responsibility, Norselands: friendship and emotional support, Benevolence: humility, Requiescence: self-awareness, Nanogen and Liberty: integrity and coping with cruelty, Taboo: self-respect and self-worth. He will build on all of these steps as he proceeds forward.
I'll close by revealing the summary text for Voyage Windbound. This is the first time I've showed this text to anyone outside my Seattle writing group. To many more exciting adventures in the alterverse!
Kal is having quite a year. After escaping exile on an alternate Earth, he began a grand adventure into the metaxia, hopping from one universe to another. But what started off as an innocent adventure of discovery has turned deadly serious.
Ludo, a boy from his grade school swim team, now eighteen years old too, has embarked on an adventure of his own—one with much more dire implications for the alternate Earths he visits.
Kal’s search for a way to make himself immune to nanogenic radiation has led him to acquiring a holographic brother, Tria, who needs a physical body of his own. That, combined with Ludo’s ominous presence, is already more than he can handle. And as tumultuous as his life is already, it’s about to get worse.
He’s about to fall in love.
Thanks very much to the author for taking the time to share Kal with us and for participating in this interview.
Find more from Zachary Bonelli and Fuzzy Hedgehog Press here.
Read my interviews of the Voyage episodes here.