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This Incredible Discovery

C.A. MacLean Author Interview

C.A. MacLean Author Interview

The Great Scourge picks up where Seed of Treachery left off. Although Ashy was exiled from her home planet she felt compelled to return only to find it in peril. This is an intriguing setup to a novel that is high in social commentary. What was your moral goal when writing this novel and do you feel you’ve achieved it?

First off, thanks are in order for your very kind words about The Great Scourge. I’m happy you enjoyed the read! As far as a ‘moral goal’ goes, the first thing I probably have to talk about is the hiven. It can be easy to read them as a commentary on religious extremism, and while that’s certainly a part of it, it’s not the core of it. They’re a different kind of foe than the Jagged Edge from the first novel; the Jags were a very ‘gray’ kind of foe, in that they’re extremists reacting against a broken system but not altogether evil. With the hiven, they’ve exterminated countless civilizations across the Convergence, and on their face seem like a more “black and white” sort of foe, maybe more like the orcs in Lord Of The Rings or the Daleks from Doctor Who, but I wanted to avoid making it feel shallow. So with the hiven, I began to think about what makes villains like orcs and Daleks frightening to begin with, and it hit me: hate. I realized that there is something primal and scary about an entire race of beings who, down to the very foundations of their society, hate those who are not like them. The concept of such blind, irrational, cruel hatred is, I think, one of the scariest things we have words for. That’s the mindset I used when writing the hiven, who of course are the titular ‘Great Scourge’, and the characters’ reactions to them.

Part of the central plot discusses the ways in which science leaping forward can be used to heal or harm. The discovery of Zova crystals has so much potential for renewable and self-sustaining energy, but due to their circumstances, our heroes are forced to use this incredible discovery for the war effort instead. Is this the responsible thing to do, or should they have shelved it until such time as it could be used for constructive pursuits? I don’t believe all my cast of characters would agree on a single answer.

Similarly, there are some sections that touch on the role of faith and religion in a society so advanced that planet-to-planet travel is analogous to us flying to another continent, and where something like Zova exists, which under extremely specific circumstances and in the hands of the right entities, can perform what many would call miracles. I wanted to avoid hammering at this too deeply right just yet, however, but I couldn’t avoid beginning to build it up as it became relevant.

Of course, I tried to avoid being didactic throughout the narrative, instead letting these kinds of themes simmer and breathe. I want them to be thinking-points for the reader, something they can sink their teeth into beyond the straightforward narrative.

But one thing I do think of when you mention a ‘moral goal’ has to do with a love of space, stellar exploration and futurism in general. While there’s plenty of dangerous things in the Architects universe (there’d be no story if there was no conflict!), part of the reason I spend so much time in the Convergence is because of my real love for these things. For example, in the upcoming third book, there’s a scene where a character mentions the Drake Equation; if I get even one reader to google that and think, ‘oh wow, that’s really interesting’, then I’ll feel very happy about that. As a kid, I was drawn to sci-fi because there was an inherent coolness factor to worlds so far beyond what we have in the modern day, but it’s since become something more philosophical. If I can take readers in with that feeling of high-tech aesthetic excitement, and help (even just a little bit) to foster a passion for science fiction, science-fact, our future and the cosmos, then that’s the best possible gift I could receive as an author in this genre.

In that sense, I don’t know that I’m the one to answer whether I’ve achieved my moral goal just yet. In terms of delivering the themes that I set out to convey in TGS, I feel good about how it turned out. I’m happy with it.

What is one pivotal moment in the story that you think best defines Ashy and Eva? Did any of the characters development occur organically through the story?

I don’t know if I’d say there’s a single scene in TGS that perfectly sums up the sisters’ relationship. There actually is a scene in the upcoming third book which I believe sums their relationship up perfectly, but even talking about the nature of the scene would probably be considered a significant spoiler. Rather, in TGS I think their relationship is expressed by the fact that either of them would go through fire and ice for the other.

For example, there’s a scene where a hiven squad is about to breach the Nexus archives where Ashy is situated, and while a breach at that point could compromise the entire mission, Eva runs like all hell and can only think of her sister’s well-being. Though they were defined by the sour bitterness of the negative space between them in Seed Of Treachery, all of that is behind them in The Great Scourge, and we see more clearly a pair of siblings who love each other as deeply as it’s possible to love someone, who are best friends as well as sisters.

The Great Scourge sees Ashy grappling with the idea that, inspired by her sister’s deeds, she too can put her best foot forward, going out on the line to save and protect those in need. That wasn’t necessarily something I deliberately mapped out while storyboarding this; it just felt natural to include once the actual writing began. It wouldn’t be the last time she got inside my head in-the-moment; there are a couple scenes in the third novel where I had a WWAD (what would Ashy do) moment and it caused the scene to change, in one case rather significantly, and I do hope for the better.

It bears mentioning that Daniel’s turn, from being less invested in Earth’s history and fate in the first chapter of Seed Of Treachery, to being nearly consumed by it in the last act of The Great Scourge, also seemed to play out pretty organically, in-the-moment, rather than my storyboarding it like “okay, now this character is going to do and think this.” This is actually because the whole Nexus arc wasn’t initially part of TGS, and the writing process had already begun before I decided that TGS was the right time in which to do it.

Once I decided that Nexus would happen here instead of a later book, things started bursting at the seams content-wise and I realized that something had to give. That ‘something’ was a sequence that would have taken place at an old shipyard on Helix, which was the aquatic world whose resort district we visited in Seed Of Treachery. The sequence had been in the story since its earliest iterations and I was kind of attached to it, but I realized that it felt superfluous compared to the tremendous significance of the Nexus arc, so I scrapped it and placed the Nexus arc there instead. Elements of it remain (for example, Chenn’s squadron encountering the biomechanical squad on Nexus would have originally happened on Helix), so I got the best of both worlds, and I’m very happy with what resulted.

I got a bit off-prompter there since I wanted to explain why Daniel’s attitudes re: Earth came about organically rather than being originally storyboarded like that, but I hope readers find that little look at the cutting room floor interesting.

To sum up: the best advice I can give to fellow authors on this subject of organic development is, listen to your characters. They’ve got a lot to say.

The backdrop and characters provided a lot of great scenes in the story. What was your favorite scene in this story?

I actually have two very different ways in which to answer this, and I’m very tempted to indulge and answer for both. First is in terms of spectacle, and second in terms of theme. My answer for spectacle would have to be the entirety of chapter 16, The When, Why And How Of Winging It, which is entirely composed of one big scene: Admiral Hannah Andora has just discovered a catastrophic betrayal on board her fleet, which catapults her into a madcap struggle for survival amidst a crashing fleet. So much has to come together for a high-octane sequence like this, like the spatial awareness of where everything is at a given moment, and getting the science nailed down (IE, asking myself, what happens when an artificial gravity generator malfunctions, and can I play with that? Et cetera). That’s all back-end technical details, though; the front-end result is what I hope is an immensely entertaining section for the reader. Architects has no shortage of action scenes, but this is my favourite one so far.

In terms of theme, it just might be the final chapter, The Fall Of Babel. It actually began life as a small segue to bridge this and the next book, but once I decided TGS was the right place and time to begin moving on the Earth revelations, this chapter seemed like the ideal place to take a breather and see us out on an emotive note. The scene pokes at several themes that will be built up throughout the series, such as the need for disparate species to rally together and the importance of the Convergence, how our pasts (on a personal or species-wide level) can inform our futures, and how our lives are, perhaps, an ongoing series of ‘endings and continuations’.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?

Right now, my main focus is on the third Architects novel, Elysium Protocol. My goal is to have it released in late 2017, which means I need a working manuscript to send to my beta-reader by June or so. I make a point of trying to write something every day, and the progress is good.

As for what readers can expect from Elysium Protocol: this is the one that concludes the Scourge War arc that began with The Great Scourge, and as such, there’s a lot of what I hope is some really interesting payoff for a number of things built up in the previous book. Plans have been set in motion that could push back the Scourge for good, but there is no war without sacrifice. Expect a story that both looks at what this ravenous war has done to worlds we know, as well as takes us to new worlds and locations. As far as science goes, there’s something for readers to sink their teeth into whether they’re a fan of hard science, or Doctor Who-style fringe science. (naturally, I love both.) The new characters are settling into the environment nicely, and it’s going to be what I think is simultaneously the darkest, as well as the most epic Architects yet. And I think (hope) it’s going to take you places you might not have expected. It’s been consuming my life as of late, partly because there are so many moving parts to keep track of, but partially because I’m so excited about putting it out there. I can hardly wait.

I’m also working on the first of a trilogy tentatively called Corroded Angels, the first book of which is tentatively called Earthfall, and the trilogy will be a dark, intense take on the high fantasy genre. I’m excited about it, I feel like it has a ton of potential and I intend to shop it around to traditional publishers when it’s ready, although that’s probably a ways off yet. While I’m working on it and EP concurrently, EP has to take precedence right now. Although I will say that Earthfall’s writing process has developed well past the point where it stops being a mere ‘collection of ideas’ and becomes a cohesive narrative structure. So I’m looking forward to delving more into that as well.

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The Great Scourge (Architects Of The Illusion, #2)Tension grips the star system of Arela, picking up the pieces after the Jagged Edge conflict. But the still has been shattered by the rise of an ancient foe.

Caught between new allies that force the faltering Fireseeds to the fringes of science, and revelations echoing from humanity’s past, the galaxy stands between extinction and revolution. The Scourge saga begins: the Fireseeds and their allies leap into interstellar action against an enemy far beyond reckoning.

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