James K. Decker has stopped by to answer a few questions about his debut novel that has just released (2/5/13). I was fortunate enough to have received an early copy and once I was finished I immediately had to contact Decker and find out more about this fantastic new series.
For those who are just hearing about The Burn Zone, can you tell us a little about the story?
It takes place in a sort of alternate future version of Earth, in the fictional city of Hangfei where a group of aliens called the Haan have appeared in a cataclysmic event they call the Impact. When their ship appeared out of thin air, it took an entire district and a quarter of a million people with it. Stranded, they've brokered a peace by offering life saving technology to an ailing world, and over the course of the fifty years leading up to The Burn Zone they've become fixtures in the city. They've begun to branch out more, being granted city space for colonies. A policy has been instituted that all haan young must be raised by humans in order to 'imprint' them, but no one is sure why the Hangfei government agreed to this or what the haan gain by it. Sam Shao, the story's protagonist, is one of these 'surrogates' and is caring for a haan infant when her adopted father, a member of the military, returns home unexpectedly from his tour. He is being pursued by his former comrades, who, she realizes when she picks up a new signal through the brain-band, are being led by a haan in disguise. He is taken from her, leaving her to solve the mystery of what he uncovered, and why he was taken, as well as the seemingly impossible task of tracking him down and getting him back. Her journey ends up revealing that the story of the haan goes much deeper than she or anyone else ever suspected.
I was intrigued by the alien race you've created and their ability to communicate with humans through brain-band mites. What inspired the creation of these fragile, glass-like creatures?
The haan went through a few iterations, though the brain-band connection was present from the start. I wanted them to be enigmatic, so I wanted their appearance to reflect that. I liked the idea of presenting them as vulnerable, with delicate bones and organs on display through translucent skin, while at the same time they possess great power. Their faces are rigid, never showing any expression to read, so emotions and subtext are only conveyed through the brain-band which they control. You can see into their heads, literally, and can see both of their brains, but you never quite know what they're thinking. Their appearance is strange, and would probably be considered a little grotesque to most readers, and yet the humans in the story are often attracted to them. It all suggests there's more going on than meets the eye, which of course there is.
Could you share with us some of your favorite sci-fi novels?
I love Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler (actually, pretty much anything by Octavia Butler), the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, Hellstrom's Hive and Dune by Frank Herbert, The Beggars series by Nancy Kress, and Neuromancer by William Gibson.
What can we expect from the sequel, Move the Stars? And will the story continue to be told from Sam's point of view?
Yes, Move the Stars is told from Sam's point of view. She'll continue to grow throughout the series, and Move the Stars marks her first step toward acting upon the things she learned in The Burn Zone. She spends a lot of time on the run in the first book - in the second, she becomes more assertive.
Do you believe there is life on other planets? Could the haan really be out there?
I believe life is out there, but I tend to doubt we will ever meet them. They would be far enough away that they'd be very difficult to reach, and our civilizations would have to be peaking at the same time for there to be a haan type situation. That said, I'm hoping they'll find some kind of life under the ice on Europa or evidence of past life on Mars.
Are there any other projects that you are currently working on?
A prequel novella to The Burn Zone called Ember is available now, and I've got several projects on the back burner, but right now I'm sketching out the third book which, if the first two books do well, will become my next novel.
We can't let you leave without discussing heroines! Who are some strong women that have had a positive influence in your life, either real or fictional?
Well, my mother, of course - you don't get to pick your mother and not everyone gets a good one, but I got a great one. She has a real sense of independence that she passed on to me, and (with my father's help) raised me well. Given some of the stunts I pulled, it couldn't have always been easy. Fictionally speaking, I think some of my favorite heroines come from Hayao Miyazaki, and my favorite of those has to be Nausicaa, from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. She's brave, and strong without being callous. She sets a terrific example. Watch it with your daughter, if you have one - just watch out, there's a mangled version of it out there in the wild that is to be avoided at all costs.
Decker announced yesterday that he is offering free
digital copies of Ember (The Burn Zone prequel) to
the first 15 Amazon reviewers!
James K. Decker was born in New Hampshire in 1970, and has lived in the New England area since that time. He developed a love of reading and writing early on, participating in young author competitions as early as grade school, but the later discovery of works by Frank Herbert and Issac Asimov turned that love to an obsession.
He wrote continuously through high school, college and beyond, eventually breaking into the field under the name James Knapp, with the publication of the Revivors trilogy (State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero). State of Decay was a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and won the 2010 Compton Crook Award. The Burn Zone is his debut novel under the name James K. Decker.He now lives in MA with his wife Kim.