Today we’re interviewing Richard Parry, who's in the middle of releasing a new trilogy, Tyche’s Journey. We had an opportunity to settle down over a virtual beer with him, about the only way we can talk since he's in New Zealand and we're in the American South. Ah, the wonders of modern technology!
ARM: Night’s Champion, your first trilogy, is a Supernatural Thriller. What motivated you to make the jump into Science Fiction with your latest series, Tyche’s Journey?
Parry: My wife demanded Tyche. The conversation was nuanced but involved subtle coercion (divorce papers were talked about). I guess you could say it’s my first work writing to spec?
Back when Night’s Favor was born, I didn’t know how to write (some might argue I still don’t, but they can go start the Parry One-Star Club). I chose supernatural thriller because there isn’t so much of a hill to climb with worldbuilding (I mean, it’s our world: it’s ready-built! It’s right here! Just add werewolves). I always wanted to write science-fiction as well, but kinda felt that my toolbox needed more hammers or something first.
Upgrade, my dystopian/cyberpunk book, was me trying Version 2.0. It’s still our world: same grunge, but better tech. With that laid down, I was willing to take a risk on something totally new. Tyche needed new everything. The political systems are different. The tech is different. Economies are different. Oh, and there are aliens.
So, aside from coercion on the home front, I wrote Tyche because I felt I could do the story justice. Stories want to be told, but they want to be told right.
ARM: Tyche’s Flight, the first book in the series (our review), is billed as a cross between Firefly and Starship Troopers, or as I like to think of it, a crew of misfits playing on a bug world. Did you intentionally create the Tyche story world with those elements in mind, or was that a happy byproduct of the writing process?
Parry: Totally intentional. You’ve touched on two elements -- nasty locusts, and gung-ho not-quite-pirates, and both of them were planned.
I think we know that audiences -- be they for movies or books -- are no longer satisfied with the motivation of, “BTW, the universe is about to end.” Of course it is. Having seen all the Snyder DC movies, I find the big bang, lotsa booms method feels almost boring. I don’t hate those movies, I just don’t really care about the people in them (Wonder Woman is totally different).
What’s that quote? Something like, a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. When Krypton blows up at the start of Man of Steel (spoilers! Sorry! I’ll try and do better...), it’s a bit meh. Millions of dollars of CG couldn’t make me care about that planet. But with Crowe’s take on Jor-El, and his conflict with the leadership? That got me interested in a couple of people.
With Tyche, I needed a really good antagonist that wasn’t going away. The Ezeroc fit that bill: an entire race of aliens that can [REDACTED SPOILERS]. They’re the obvious Big Bad of the series. You can’t play nice with them. You can’t negotiate with them. They look at us like a we’re a really interesting buffet. But when they descend on a colony world, you might think, “Gosh, that’s unlucky,” but you don’t care.
The crew of misfits makes you care. When they come together, there are rough edges. You know the Big Bad is waiting for them, and if they don’t get their shit sorted, bad things will happen. Once you get to like them, you fear those bad things. Add in the antagonist -- the alien force that gobbles worlds -- and now you’re invested.
Hopefully, you’re hooked. You care about what happens not because of the Ezeroc, but because of the five souls on the Tyche.
ARM: That’s one reason why we loved Tyche’s Flight. The way you told the story, we really came to care for this little misfit band of renegades.
Parry: Thanks! You never know how the voices in your head will work out when exposed to a little sunlight.
There is more to come. The sequels expand on their journeys in (what I think are) interesting ways. I hope everyone continues to love/hate October Kohl, for instance.
ARM: There’s a lot of worldbuilding in Tyche. Some of the reviews compare the first book to Firefly, Starship Troopers (like our review of Tyche’s Flight), and even a little Expanse or Star Wars. How did you go about building the Tyche universe?
Parry: I drank a lot.
After I’d sobered up -- I mean, what kind of moron starts a whole new universe? -- I began with the characters. The universe needed to be a place they could live in, sure, but about them first. So, out came Grace and Nate, El and Hope, and even Kohl. Then the side characters (Karkoski, Amedea, Chad, and so on). The heroes and villains (the Ezeroc assholes being the most obvious) needed a good backdrop to joust against.
After I realized the scope of what I’d done, I drank some more.
Then I busted out my whiteboard and started charting star systems, political powers and influences, that kind of thing. I’ve still got the photos of these somewhere, there are a lot of red lines going between things. On top of all of that, I needed a timeline for significant events (Emperors don’t assassinate themselves!), and … viola. Easy as pie. Or a six-pack of beer, which is where I went next (there’s a theme here).
A good chunk of worldbuilding space opera is tech. Is there FTL? What about shields? Do people have computers in their brain? What about nanotech? How does computer encryption work? All of these things needed an answer. And I needed to come to grips with the science (which is hard for a guy who tells lies for a living).
ARM: One of the things I noted when I read Tyche’s Flight was the incredible level of detail. Grace Gushiken, for example, often went into a lovely mental immersion with her martial arts training. It was almost a refuge for her from a world that seemed to continually reject her, until she wormed her way onto the Tyche’s crew. How did your own martial arts training influence your portrayal of her and of the fight scenes scattered throughout the story?
Parry: When I was going from zygote to man, I had to pass the usual phases of infancy, childhood, and so on. We moved around a lot, changing cities and countries. I was the funny-dressed, funny-sounding kid with no friends about thirty times. Because reasons, there were a few different father figures that came and went, and that wasn’t very settling.
I was first attracted to martial arts because of Chuck Norris (the scene that did this from Silent Rage, which you can watch here. Warning: it doesn’t date well). I remember being generally turned off by movie action until I wandered into a room with that scene playing. I didn’t know who Chuck Norris was, but I saw that scene and was transformed (possibly you might ask questions about how a minor gets access to content like that, but that is a totally different story). I was all like, “I want to be suave like that.”
When I first stepped into a dojo, it wasn’t like Silent Rage at all. But it had some other benefits. When you’re young with some potential anger management issues, a good sensei can redirect that. Focus you into other areas. And I’ve been blessed with excellent sensei over my time.
I tried to give Grace a little bit of that. She’s got troubles, but kendo ain’t one.
ARM: One of the central themes in Tyche’s Flight revolves around the creation and meaning of family. Was there a particular motivation or impetus behind this theme?
Parry: I think it’s in a lot of my writing. I’m not 100% sure why, but I’m attracted to the concept of how we form connections to our fellow humans. Some of us have great families, some of us have lousy ones. It’s not always clear which ones we have. Friendships are things we get to choose, and if you pick the right friends, they can change your life.
They can even become the family you wanted but never had.
This is true for all the crew of the Tyche. Nate’s fall from the Emperor’s Black and [BOOK THREE SPOILERS REDACTED]. Grace’s race to be away from her father. Kohl’s abandonment by everyone he’s ever known. Hope’s confusion about how her wife [BOOK TWO SPOILERS REDACTED]. Even El, who seems the one with the least to gain on a ship of fools, lost her companions at the end of the war.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people so poorly handled by life could treat each other a little better?
ARM: You’ve mentioned heroes and villains. In Tyche’s Flight, there is an anti-hero that people will love, love to hate, or hate to love (we did all three): October Kohl. Where did he come from?
Parry: Kohl might be the voice inside my head that I never listen to, because he’s a terrible human being. I think we all have one of those.
Right? You can admit it. We’re all friends here.
Kohl was a great deal of fun to write, and not just because he can get away with the things the rest of us would be arrested for. His story arc through the Tyche’s Journey trilogy is a little more nuanced than they-shot-my-pa. And when the planet you’re on is about to be blown up, you’d better hope Kohl is on the team.
Also, he gets some of the best lines.
ARM: It’s interesting that there’s no artificial intelligence in your story world, which has become so ubiquitous in SciFi. Why did you eschew AI?
Parry: Spoilers! C’mon.
A friend of mine, John Hindmarsh, just wrote a book kinda sorta about AI. The basic thrust is that AI is likely to be humanity’s savior or destroyer (unlike you, I’m not giving away spoilers here). In Tyche, AI was the documented destroyer, and it was only with the Guild’s help that the uprising was crushed. It put the Guild in a position of trust, power, and influence, and they now control major interstellar trade. All they had to do to get there was genocide silicon-based sentient life.
To be fair, it was us or them.
So, yeah: that’s where Tyche starts. No AI. Humans against the hard black. And a bunch of mind-reading space insects. You’ve got to wonder if you’d try to resurrect your devils to fight a greater horror, right?
ARM: But Tyche’s Flight has tech other than AI. FTL. Wormholes. Exosuits. Plasma cannons. How did you magic this up? What kind of research did you do?
Parry: I read a lot. I mean, as an author you kind of have to. If you don’t know the genre, let alone like it, how can you write there? Anyway -- about 90% of what I read is sci-fi. Some of my favorite authors are people like Alastair Reynolds, John Scalzi, James SA Corey, Richard K. Morgan, and Neal Asher.
Space opera has a lot of the things I love. Space ships. Nuclear fusion. Railguns. Blasters. There’s room for genetic manipulation. Nanobot swarms. Bionic limbs. Aliens, and I’m not talking the sexy-times away-team mission types that Kirk enjoyed. I’m talking bugs that eat humans and can control minds.
Once I’d nailed the universe to a wall, I seeded it with a bunch of technology. I’ve tried to make the tech plausible. I’m sure someone out there will tell me I’ve made a dog’s dinner out of the Alcubierre drive! I am no scientist. But I’ve tried to do the science a little bit of justice.
ARM: You definitely succeeded with tech plausibility. And then there are the espers, which border on science fantasy or, at the very least, the paranormal; they seem to blur the lines a little on the plausibility side. So why that? How do espers fit into the science of your story world?
Parry: I wanted space wizards, and I didn’t want to use bullshit magic.
Hey, you asked.
Enter your friend and mine, genetic manipulation. Hell, we can use CRISPR to de-sex mosquitos; how hard can it be to make mind-readers? Since Tyche is set around 3500AD, I figured it might be hard, but maybe we’ve got some time?
Insider trading: since the Ezeroc can read and control minds, I thought it’d be cool if we started with humanity. The Intelligencers (espers) are a small group of people used to ruling, but they’re not in the same league. Espers compared to Ezeroc? Like bringing a water pistol to storm Normandy. It upsets the power balance and provides some perspective. How our espers respond to that is fun. Will they help us? Throw us to the wolves? Run? Fight? Whatever happens, bring your popcorn.
ARM: You’ve planned at least two other books in the Tyche’s Journey Series. What’s in store for the Tyche’s crew?
Parry: Tyche’s Deceit, the second Tyche’s Journey book, splits the crew up when they get to Earth. Some of them might revert to type. Some might try to re-establish old connections. Their tenuous link with family is teased apart. Oh, and they discover that the evil aliens are controlling the Republic Senate. It’s good times.
The final Tyche’s Journey book, Tyche’s Crown, takes the crew past the edges of known human space. Friends are held hostage. They need to gather allies who have no reason to trust them. And then -- with just one Old Empire heavy lifter, a tiny ship that should have been mothballed long ago -- they must fight the Ezeroc at their homeworld.
It would take a tremendous stroke of luck for everyone to make it out alive.
ARM: And that’s what will keep us coming back for more. Will there be more Tyche stories after all three planned books are published, or are you ending the journey at three?
Parry: I have Plans™. This isn’t the crew of the Tyche’s end. For most of them, anyway.
Right now? I’m writing a prequel for each crew member (I’ve finished Nate and El, and am about to start on Hope). Since we can infer a lot of what happened there, I’m really looking forward to the books south of Tyche’s Crown. Assuming I don’t suffer a pulmonary embolism, you can expect a subsequent trilogy within about six months.
ARM: Trust me, we're looking forward to that. I want to veer off into your other books for a moment. Upgrade is Cyberpunk and, again, quite different from what you’re writing now. What drew you to write that particular story?
Parry: It was the book I most wanted to write when I decided I wanted to be a writer.
When I was a kid, I tried being a writer by copying the scripts of Knight Rider and typing them into a computer. I had a Commodore 64, and saved the stories onto (carbon dating myself here, but) cassette tape. All of those stories are lost, and the world is better for it.
After I got over the pain of loss, I got to thinking about what it means to be human. You know. KITT, a sentient machine. Seemed real enough to me. Despite having wheels instead of arms, he had motivations that were plausible (at least to my mind at the time). He was one of the team.
Coupled with that is this concept that humans aren’t always very nice. Many of our expansions have come at the cost of a repressed people. We’re kind of shitty to each other that way. Blade Runner plays with this concept: we can make slaves who must obey. Hell, in today’s world there are people who fairly indenture themselves with their companies for more money or status, but it’s a hamster wheel they can’t escape. They are almost volunteering to be slaves.
We are, right now, on the verge of creating alternate consciousness in machines. Will these be human? I’d like to think so. It’s playing with these ideas -- humanity, and slavery -- for a long time that led me to create Upgrade. The people in it are so lost. Mason is obvious, but there is also Sadie, who is lost but doesn’t want to be found. Carter is the most lost of all, but can’t ever admit it.
Uh. It’s not a light read. It does have some pretty funny dialogue and great action. I hope it’s not prophetic. Also, I wrote it when I was working for a bunch of assholes, so that might be a factor.
ARM: You’ve got two other stories set in the Upgrade universe, Delilah, a retelling of the Samson and Delilah Bible story which I’m personally looking forward to reading, and Consensus. What are your plans for those novellas?
Parry: I’m going to give Delilah away to my mailing list. It’ll be serialized out for free over the coming weeks/months (it’s 17,000 words! This will take a while…). After the list has had their bite, I’ll distribute it wider. If you want to be in on this madness, distribution starts in January - sign up over here. If you sign up after January I’ll make sure there’s a way you can catch up on the back chapters until it’s released outside of the list.
Consensus was huge fun. I was invited to take part in Pew! Pew! 4: Bad versus Worse. Pew! Pew! is an anthology series of humorous sci-fi; think of it like a chocolate sampler box. Someone in the PP team liked my dialogue and dragged me in. Consensus is set after Upgrade, and is a villain’s journey for Austin to create his very own megacorp. It’s far more light hearted than Upgrade, but shares the same world (with its collection of sociopaths). PP 4 should be available on Earth now -- check it out here.
ARM: You moved into writing from the corporate world. Has that helped or hurt your writing career, or otherwise motivated you in some way?
Parry: It’s very hard to write compelling narrative after a life of business cases, but writing creatively is a massive asset for the corporate world. Documents that are conversational, a little bit funny, and in plain English sell themselves.
But sure, the motivation was strong to not have to do that anymore. When you’re working in corporate-land, no matter how senior you are, you’re quite often working for someone else’s dreams. Being a writer lets you work on your own dreams. Albeit living under a bridge, because your income is 3% of what you used to make. Eh.
ARM: I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the logo you planned on using for the Tyche’s Journey Series, and have been salivating over it ever since, then I saw a picture of you holding a coffee cup with the logo on it. When will fans get to buy that snazzy piece of fanware?
Parry: Ah. Epic levels of Instagram stalking right there.
I guess you could say I’m beta testing the cup right now. It is good! I like the cup. I made it because I wanted to crew on the Tyche, but it’s 2017, not 3500. I’m thinking of doing a limited run for my beta readers, who’ve put up with far too much shit from me.
If you want to help me beta test the cup, check this out:
ARM: You're a great author and I know a lot of readers will want to keep in touch with you. Where can folks find you on the web?
My site (www.mondegreen.co) isn’t a bad choice. If you want me to spam you mercilessly, http://hit.mondegreen.co/freebooks will get you on that train (and get to see Delilah before anyone else). I post cat videos on Facebook. [ARM: And a lot of other cool stuff.] But if you want to skip to the head of the line, my Author page on Amazon will show you the lies I tell.
Thanks very much for the interview! I hope the holiday season treats you very well.
ARM: Hey, man. Thanks for letting us pick your brain. Er, figuratively speaking. Happy holidays!