by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
This week in KRL we are interviewing Sci-fi author Taylor Anderson about his historical Sci-fi series Destroyermen. At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of the latest book in this series.
It’s 1944, sort of, somewhere. About two years ago, some Japanese and Allied ships, subs, planes, and their crews were pulled into a similar Earth in another dimension. The Americans allied themselves with a lemur-descended race, while the Japanese worked with reptilian invaders. Both groups are using “modern” (1940s) technology to help their cause, which causes changes to the cultures around them.
This is the world of Iron Gray Sea: Destroyermen, the seventh in the Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson. It’s a big world, and many parts are unknown to its characters, but there are a lot of characters. A cast of characters at the beginning of the book lists 150 named characters, about 35 vessels, and the action ranges over at least six theatres of operations. Jumping into the story at this stage is like walking into a rugby match for the first time; some elements are easy to grasp, but there are things that are completely incomprehensible about the whole affair. To Anderson’s credit, he manages to keep first-timers well-oriented without resorting to the “Remember the first time we knew we weren’t on our world? That’s when we…” cliché.
Lt. Cmdr. Matt Reddy skippers the U.S.S. Walker, a WWI-vintage four-stacker destroyer, and he just married the nurse on board, but war doesn’t wait for honeymoons. An Allied invasion of “Indiaa” has met with a new breed of the lizard-like Grik that fight better, using tactics taught by their new Japanese officers. There’s a religious Dominion ruling the Americas, terrorism in “New Britain,” and a new challenge to Reddy’s standing as leader of the Allies.
Anderson is a forensic ballistic archaeologist, and he knows his weapons. He knows how the big guns work, and look. He can even make you feel, smell, and hear them. When his characters try to make the armaments they knew on their home world with the methods and materials of their new world, their successes and failures are realistic and make sense.
Iron Gray Sea: Destroyermen is a great gift for fans of alternate history, sort-of World War II action, and timeslip/parallel worlds science fiction. There’s strategy, combat, a touch of romance (mostly of the longing-glance variety), and new parts of the world to explore, but don’t be too shy to look up the earlier books to catch up on the rest of the series. You will enjoy it.
Interview With Taylor Anderson
Terrance: With all the characters and locations in the Destroyermen series, what methods do you use to keep track of who’s doing what, where with whom?
Taylor: That’s a good question. Originally, I kept fairly extensive notes, but they eventually reached near novel length themselves and became increasingly difficult to access. I’ve always kept a “Cast of Characters” and made notations regarding who was where, doing what, and that’s been sufficient—with everything else crowding the limited hard drive in my head! I have finally begun including a current “Cast of Characters” in the books, and will probably begin keeping an index as well. I hope this will help readers—and me.
Terrance: Your Destroyermen series places World War II technology into a similar world with different evolution and alien races. What draws you to the alternate history genre?
Taylor: All my life I’ve been occupied with hard, “pure” history, whether teaching, consulting, working on movies, or learning period skills to make firearms with the same tools and methods used in past centuries. I’m still passionate about history, but the alternate history/universe aspects of the Destroyermen Series allow me to use real history in a fun, new way. In other words, I get to play and make stuff up!
Terrance: Teaching history on the college level, what inspiration do you get from your students and their errors on assignments?
Taylor: I love to teach and suspect I always will. I’m not currently teaching formal classes (though I hope time allows me to pick up a few sections soon), but I still teach all the time, whether at public artillery demonstrations, through the sometimes obscure historical facts I include in my fiction, or just talking to my daughter. I still get the same thrill whenever I see the light bulb come on. I am inspired by errors, often my own. Anybody, regardless how experienced, who thinks they know everything about anything is a fool, and nothing motivates me to improve quite as much as goofing up.
Terrance: Your knowledge of ballistic archaeology is used quite well in explaining how your characters experiment with developing weapons and try to replicate the armaments they knew in their Earth. What other areas of your expertise do you use in your series?
Taylor: Effect. Describing what the weapons do, what they sound like, even what color smoke they make. There’s not a weapon in the series—except sadly some of the more “modern” Naval artillery—that I’m not intimately familiar with. I use them and experiment with them all the time. (Living out in the country is a great advantage in this respect!) Writing the story has even inspired me to “get to know” the few small arms I’ve included that I wasn’t already familiar with. Ultimately though, you can be an “expert” on weapons of any or all periods, describe them perfectly and know every variation, but until you use it, get familiar with it, learn exactly what it’s capable of—get good with it—I imagine it’s difficult to write characters who carry and use them with ease and achieve realistic results.
Terrance: What writers do you see as inspirations in your work?
Taylor: Oh wow. All of them. I was devouring Heinlein, Stevenson, Melville and Burroughs in grade school. I HAVE to read. I’ll read a toothpaste tube if there’s nothing else. I grew up on Eckert, Devoto, Homer and Kent, and then discovered O’Brian, Weber, Drake, Stirling, Niven, Roscoe—the list is endless. I can see where I’ve been inspired in some ways, large and small, by everyone.
Terrance: Science fiction is based on “what-if” ideas. What are some of the “what-ifs” that created the world of the Destroyermen?
Taylor: Well, initially I began with “what if” a pair of lonely destroyers survived the massacre of the Asiatic Fleet at the outbreak of WW2, but to do so, they had to find themselves in a world founded entirely on “what if?” At that point, the “what ifs” poured in like a waterfall. They continue to do so as I expand the world my characters wound up in and populate it with places, creatures and people all based on a heavy dose of “what if” as well. Oh yeah, throw in a double handful of Murphy!
Terrance: You have been a consultant and sometime-actor in movies (2003 The Alamo) and on TV. How does filmmaking compare to writing?
Taylor: It compares in the sense that you’re telling a story, but with writing, of course, you have to create a mental image instead of a visual one. The “scene preparation” is amazingly similar however. You still have to set the stage, make a mood, capture a sunrise or significant look. It may be easier in some ways to tell a story with actors and music and CGI, but my favorite authors can create even more vivid images and emotions in my mind.
Terrance: In your series, the lemur-descended Mi-Anaaka and the reptilian Grik have complex societies. How did you develop the cultures in your books?
Taylor: A lot of it was whim, based on physiological and environmental influences that I set in motion by establishing the basic species’ and their respective situations. Otherwise, human history has examples of so many truly bizarre societies, one can defend the position that just about everything has been tried before and you just can’t make up many that are stranger. Grab a few aspects of various real, historical human societies and throw them in the mix here and there—it’s really not that hard to come up with something weird.
Terrance: “What if” you hadn’t written alternate history? What kind of writing might you have done, if you had written at all? What changes might there have been in your life?
Taylor: I’ve always enjoyed writing and telling stories. I might’ve stuck to historical fiction, or perhaps run off in some completely different direction. I remain tempted by a number of subjects and genres. Either way, I would’ve written. That said, I could’ve stayed so involved in all my other pursuits that I might’ve never finished anything else. My deep passion for this story of the Destroyermen, and the confidence and encouragement of my friend and agent, Russell Galen, insured that I’d keep trying for the long mark, no matter what.
You can learn more about Taylor and his books on his website
To enter to win a copy of Iron Gray Sea: Destroyermen, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Sea”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 4, 2012. U.S. residents only and with this one no P.O. Boxes.