Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow. It was created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction. From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it was intended to help us share our love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Today I am interviewing Jean Johnson, author of the new science-fiction novel The Blockade, third book in the First Salik War series.
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DJ: Hey Jean! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
Let’s start with you; for readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jean Johnson: I’m an author of genre fiction, writing primarily in the science fiction, fantasy, and romance categories, because those are my favorite types of books to read. I also enjoy superhero stories, occasional steampunk fantasies, and so forth, but I’m not a big fan of horror. Growing up in a little patch of rurality surrounded by suburbia, I didn’t have a lot of friends living close enough for me to walk over to their house and visit, so I spend a lot of my childhood reading. My parents encouraged it, taking me frequently to the local libraries and so forth, but after a while, I realized there were stories I wanted to read that no one was writing, and it finally dawned on me that if I wanted to read them, I would have to write them myself. So here I am, twenty-plus books later, with many more still to go.
DJ: What is The Blockade and also the First Salik War series about?
Jean: The First Salik War series is about, well, the first Salik War, which takes place in the late 2280s, according to our calendar. It’s about humans from Earth reaching out into interstellar space for the very first time, exploring multiple star systems beyond our own, only to encounter aliens that are not only hostile, but whom have already managed to encounter humans who are not from Earth.
In THE TERRANS, the first book, we see things from the Terran perspective, and most of the action takes place either in space we’re become familiar with, or on Earth itself. The first book covers a lot of first contact and political doubts on what humanity—Earth humanity—should do about what they’re discovering. We do get to meet the Salik at the start, but the war effort ends up taking a back seat to the conflicts of trying to figure out how two very different cultures can peacefully interact even when it’s technically the same species.
In the second book, THE V’DAN, we learn a lot more about this other race of humans that has been living for thousands of years on this other world hundreds of lightyears from Earth. The protagonists do that by going to that world to figure out who they are, what they’re like, and how to interact with them. Once the Terrans know how to do that, they hope they can make the transition to interacting with the truly alien, non-human races out there in easier ways…but they still run into trouble because the V’Dan are very different from the Terrans, despite being completely biologically human.
It’s very much a book on cultural clashes, another aspect of both first contact and political troubles. These tensions are worsened by the fact the V’Dan and the other Alliance races are losing their war against the Salik, because the technological playing field favors the aggressor being able to lay plans and carry them out without the defenders being able to adequately prepare against their attacks in time. The Terrans have some seriously good technology that could completely overturn their losing war into a victory…but the cultural clashes are making it difficult to want to volunteer anything for that task.
THE BLOCKADE, final book of the trilogy, works hard to resolve a lot of the problems from the previous two books, while exposing the main characters to the actual war. They can no longer stay in the halls of political power, but must instead go to the various warfronts to make sure that the Terrans are integrating without too many troubles into the Alliance’s efforts to stop the Salik invasions. At this point in the overall timeline of this universe, nobody wants to wipe out the Salik as a race, because xenocide—genocide by any other name—is an horrific thing. But these people are running out of options because the enemy is psychologically committed to hunting and battling everyone they deem inferior. Saving the day will require a lot of hard bluffing and a serious bit of cleverness—based on some actual science, yay!—to save the day.
It’s not as hard-core military science fiction as the first series, Theirs Not To Reason Why, and there is a bit of a lovestory woven throughout all three books, but to be fair, I try not to write cookie-cutter stories and/or characters. Everything is going to be a bit different than what came before. The previous series was very military, to the point I have been accused dozens of times of surely having served in the military. (Confession: I have not.) This one is far more political, cultural, and first contact confusion & clash in its flavoring, but that’s perfectly fine. When we do have a first contact scenario, once you can communicate in each other’s languages—and the Terrans have a pretty good trick for doing that—then you focus on getting to know each other, and hope you don’t make too many obnoxious-to-the-other-side mistakes out of ignorance as you go along.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the First Salik War series?
Jean: Overall, I’ve been working on the universe this story is set in for over 25 years now, and that’s a lot of time to pick up a lot of influences. (The overall universe and timeline is huge, spanning over 15,000 years; I’ve only touched the first two chapters, so to speak, with these two series.) Anyway, for the first contact side of things, I can’t pick out any actual book titles off the top of my head, but I remember feeling a bit dissatisfied over a number of first contact themed novels. They weren’t bad stories by any means, but there were things that I felt had been left out or not even considered that should have been.
It’s kind of strange, but I rarely found any stories, science fiction or fantasy, that treated first contact situations realistically. Things like communication barriers are fine and often considered, but how often do stories seriously consider the necessities of quarantine periods, and the development and distribution of vaccines and other health safety measures across an entire population base? With alien biology, it’s not always safe to assume it won’t affect humans, and if you do have an entirely new batch of humans to deal with—as happens in the First Salik War series, you have some very serious diseases that have to be handled.
In the year 2016, there are isolated tribes in the Amazon jungles of Brazil which want to have contact with more technologically advanced people, to trade for various items, to get different types of food, and so forth, but we have finally realized that if we go exchange goods with them, if we exchange physical contact, they have no immunities built up against a lot of the diseases we can shrug off, because we’ve been innoculated against them.
Things like that should be considered in a story. Even presuming the highly advanced state of medicine that should be found in the year 2287, it’s still going to take weeks to isolate and identify all possible dangerous pathogens, weeks to develop immunization methods, and then weeks figure out a way to mass-produce and mass-distribute them. I dislike hand-waving serious questions like that in serious science fiction—space opera or otherwise—because it should be considered now so that it can be dreamt up as goals for our upcoming scientists to aim for in their careers. That’s how we ended up with flip-phones and tablet computers, thanks to the writers, directors, and producers of the various Star Trek shows imagining solutions to everyday life.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters in the trilogy? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?
Jean: Well, let’s see… Jackie MacKenzie first and foremost considers herself not a politician, but a public servant. When I first conceived of her character back in the 1990s, I hadn’t even heard of Bernie Sanders—I’m not sure anybody had heard of him in politics, other than in that town in Vermont—but I think the two of them would have a simply delightful time chatting about everything under the sun if they could meet today. Certainly, in her universe, people from the past like Bernie are considered the forefathers of the Terran United Planets world government.
The second thing that makes her cool is that she is a psychic with some very powerful abilities. Foremost, she is a telepath who can communicate with non-human intelligences as well as her fellow humans. This allows her to be a polyglot, someone who speaks various different languages. The second is, she’s a holokinetic; she can create projections of light (and sound) that look real. The third thing is…she doesn’t have to use any of these abilities if she doesn’t want to, and to me, that’s important.
I know that’s kind of a weird thing to think is truly cool about her, but she does have an ancestress who was a powerful holokinetic, who initially used her psychic abilities to make a living as a stage magician. In a lot of stories about psychics in science fiction settings, there’s always this massive controlling government agency that demands they HAVE to use their powers “for the betterment of mankind”…and it inevitably ends up that they’re being used as puppets by power-hungry whatevers, whether it’s within the highest echelons of the organization or by government officials, blah blah blah. I didn’t want that. We have plenty of those stories right now on how dangerous that is, and I figured in my future, people took that stuff to heart.
Additionally there’s a trope running around that if you have healing powers—whether magical or psychic or whatever—then you HAVE to have “a calling to be a Healer”…and that also strikes me as completely wrong. Just because you have an advantage others do not does not mean you are obligated to do that thing, whatever it is. Take for example a tall kid who is deeply interested in biology class. Are they going to be urged to play basketball in school? Yes. Do they HAVE to play basketball? A resounding, solid NO. I’m not talking about P.E. Class basketball where everyone has to play it for a few weeks before moving on to the next sport to be studied and tried, but the actual basketball team stuff. It makes sense that the kid has the right to say NO, and we should let them work on their biology lessons because that is what they love doing, rather than try to force them to play basketball if they don’t want to play. The same thing goes for psychic abilities. She has them, she’s trained how to use them, she can and does use them, but she’d much rather be a public servant, where she uses her telepathy primarily to learn languages and facilitate communication, rather than have her life focus solely around her mental powers.
The final thing that I think is cool about her is that she isn’t a white character. She is Polynesian. Half of her ancestry is predominantly European, but the other half, the side she identifies with most strongly, is very much Hawai’ian. Her areas of public service are all over Oceania, the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia and Micronesia. She has a very cosmopolitan attitude because she’s interacted with so many different cultures and peoples, but at her core, she is Hawai’ian, she comes from a long line of people who have lived in the Hawai’ian Islands.
…I have to digress for a moment to thank yet again the cover artist, Gene Mollica, for helping bring my science fiction book covers to life. Jackie is half Hawai’ian, so she’s got that Polynesian/Asian thing going, and Ia (pronounce EE-yah, the main character of the series Theirs Not to Reason Why) is half Japanese in her appearance. Gene was able to find an excellent model for each lady. Half the world’s population is some form of Asian, whether that’s the South Asian of India, the East Asian of China and Japan, or the many countries of Southeast Asia…so for me to see an Asian lady as the heroine of a story, featured on the cover is a fantastic thing. It reflects the real world we live in a lot more accurately, and that is why I wrote these ladies this way.
The other main character is Li’eth. He is a human like Jackie, but he is V’Dan, not Terran; he comes from a very different culture, one which is very stratified and which has a lot of expectations for him in particular on what he can and should do with his life. When we first meet him, his ship has fallen to the enemy and he and his crew are about to be captured by the Salik, to be held prisoner until the Salik get around to eating them alive. In his culture, there is a prophecy about someone—and he has good reason to think it is himself—being rescued from a grave enemy, and being put into a situation where he can bring in a new ally to help them win the war that they are currently losing.
So on the one hand, he’s afraid of literally being eaten alive. On the other hand, he believes that he will be rescued. And when he is rescued, he knows that these Terrans, despite their strange looks and strange ways, are the key to the Alliance’s victory. Particularly when he finds out what they can do, technologically. They are backwards compared to the V’Dan in many ways, but highly advanced in several others. Li’eth places his faith in that desperate need in a mix of both personal belief and pure duty to his people’s survival.
A note on Li’eth’s appearance: He is a blond, which makes him look European/Caucasian, but he isn’t from Earth. He literally was a blond with light golden-tan skin and grey eyes because I did up a chart of hair and skin and eye colors, and rolled some dice way back when I first came up with these characters. Later, when I was in the midst of writing the final versions of the trilogy, I managed to run across some genetics and archaeology articles crossreferencing the advent of blond hair and blue eyes in the human genome, and learned that these things have been traced back as far as 12,000-ish years ago.
Since the V’Dan already had been written into the historical timeline to have disappeared from Earth a little under 10,000 years ago, to me this was a case of perfect timing; a couple thousand years would be plenty of time to have plenty of blonds as well as brunettes and redheads to pack up and ship off to an alien world for Reasons™…which I haven’t gotten around to putting into a book, yet, but which have been plotted out.
DJ: What is the universe/world for the First Salik War series like?
Jean: THE TERRANS was pretty easy to research. Since I had long ago established in my universe where the Terran capital was located, in the Hawai’ian Islands, that part was easily researched. Then I had to cover how people would move and live and eat, et cetera, in a zero gravity environment. Thankfully, NASA is a public agency that posts all sorts of information and gives lots of answers to various questions…like what does space food taste like? When you’re in zero gravity—technically in a microgravity environment when you’re in orbit around the Earth—smells don’t move around like they do when you’re in normal gravity. So foods tend to get overseasoned so that they have an appearance of flavor while they’re being consumed.
I also had to figure out what sort of space suit technology to use. The reason why astronauts use the bulky things you see today is because pressurized air is kinder on the skin than form-fitted suits. When the atmospheric pressure drops low enough, the pores and hair follicles in your skin try to invert, and it’s rather uncomfortable. You’d be able to move around a lot easier in a skin-tight suit, but at the expense of feeling like you’re undergoing a constant low-level bodyhair waxing. So I had to figure out what sort of space suits should be used, and how to get around the awkwardness of functionality level versus comfort level.
For THE V’DAN, the characters were no longer on Earth, but most of the action takes place either on a space station with artificial gravity, or in the palace complex of the V’Dan Empire’s capital city. I still had to flavor everything with a touch of the alien—and we actually get to see and interact with a number of truly alien beings—but there were more things that were familiar simply due to pure form-follows-function than not, particularly as they’re on a world where everything was built to accommodate humans for thousands of years.
In THE BLOCKADE, when we start seeing yet more worlds…well, you’re still going to have some form-follows-fuction, but the color of the grass is going to be different if it’s a world with an atmosphere and temperature range you can endure. In fact, it might not even be grass as we know it. But without a doubt, wherever you go, if it can support your form of life and it’s been settled for a while, there’s going to be restaurants selling food. Of course, if there’s food being sold, some of those shops will sell it as either take-out or delivery, even if some of it is locally evolved and cultivated rather than coming from the same planet as you. And yes, there is a scene in THE BLOCKADE where they’re eating the local equivalent of delivery!
DJ: I understand that there is some type of psychic ablilty in the world, as well. Could you explain that to us in a little more depth?
Jean: I actually go into the origins of psychic abilities in the previous series, Theirs Not To Reason Why. In the First Salik War series, human psychics don’t yet know where their abilities actually originated. They do know that at some point after the Information Age—long after the pseudoscience versions of those who were deliberate con artists had been debunked—there came an upsurge in strong psychic abilities being born in people around the globe. Scientists, puzzled by this, developed a machine that could detect the energies being used, and with detection, started paying serious, scientific attention not only to these abilities, but to their training and utilization.
There was a fair bit of arguing over what sort of status these people should have, what sort of oversight, what sort of requirements to make sure they were maintaining a common level of morality and ethics in how these abilities would be used, etc, but the psychics themselves did not want to be forced to use their abilities. It certainly helped that for the vast majority of telepaths, nobody wanted to actively go diving into someone else’s head without permission.
I liken it to the reluctance I have to go digging around in my mother’s purse. That is her purse, not mine, hands off unless I’m specifically told go to find something in it. For those of you who are comfortable rummaging in your mother’s purse, consider it the laundry basket equivalent of your dormroom mate’s things. Ew. No thank you; not if you don’t have to. And for those of you who still don’t get it…imagine you’re being asked to listen to someone babbling about random things, most of which you have no interest in listening to. And then add in earworm songs that play over and over in the back of your head. And add in all the typical self-doubts and anxiety babblings most people run as a mental dialogue in their day. As I said, realistically speaking, most telepaths just would not want to go into someone else’s head without a good reason.
In contrast, the V’Dan always had psychics and psychic abilities to some degree. For them, such abilities were interwoven inextricably with religion and faith from their earliest days. Because it was never separated from religion, science was discouraged from taking a close, hard look at any of it, so a lot of the training was wrapped up in religious teachings, mysticism, occultish obfuscations, so on and so forth, all in a bid to keep control of such things in the hands of the priesthood.
Complicating this was the fact that at more than one point, the interactions between secular leaderships and religious organizations got a bit bloody; a lot of the training manuals were lost, forcing the survivors to cobble together whatever they could remember and pass it along to the next generation in an increasingly garbled form. Without that break between sheltered religious holy mysticism and scrutiny by logic-based skepticism, they didn’t have the impetus to examine these abilities with hard scientific scrutiny and methodology. Since the same could be said for all the other races of the Alliance—that psychic abilities were a gift from the gods or whatever, and thus they remained in the purview of religion, not science—they weren’t developed to the extent that Terran abilities were.
All this, of course, is what the Terrans know or learn during the First Salik War. If you want to know where the genetic inheritance for psychic abilities come from, how the energies work, so on and so forth…that’s an even longer explanation. In fact, it would be easier just to read the other series, the five books of Theirs Not to Reason Why. In that story, the main character is a massive precognitive, someone who can foresee the various possible versions of the future in stunning levels of detail…but that still doesn’t guarantee that the highest probabilities and the biggest percentages of what could happen will actually happen.
DJ: This is a military science-fiction story, so do you create any cool tech, too?
Jean: Absolutely. One of the biggest premises of the First Salik War is that everyone in the Alliance—including the Salik, former Alliance members—has the same general levels of technology as everyone else. They have faster-than-light technology that travels at about an hour to the light year. I based it on the suppression of the Higgs field, which is what gives particles their mass. (This is why finding the Higgs Boson was so important.) The members of the Alliance and their enemy also have things like artificial gravity and energy shields, laser based weapons and exploding projectiles…but they do not have very swift interstellar travel, and they have zero interstellar communications abilities. They literally have to travel somewhere to be able to deliver a message and find out what’s been happening since the last time someone visited that star system, and it can take dozens and scores of hours to get anywhere, since systems that are worht colonizing are spread out over many lightyears.
The Terrans, on the other hand, believed erroneously that they couldn’t get to the speed of light, let alone go faster than it, so they developed other-than-light technology to travel between the stars. It’s based on creating artificial wormholes, bending and folding space/time so that it creates a shortcut between two points. With FTL, the suppression of the Higgs field makes a spaceship slippery and it “squirts” through space, lacking mass and thus appreciable inertia; the bubble of the field also shelters the people moving around inside the ship tucked inside, so they stay perfectly fine. With OTL, the shortcut of the hyperrift tunnel creates a sort of vacuum effect, and a ship entering a rift gets “sucked” through the “straw” to the other side. Since the crew are not sheltered from the dilation of space/time, there are some biological side effects that put a limit on how far a person can travel at a stretch before needing food, drink, and rest.
On the bright side, the smaller the straw diameter, the faster something gets sucked through, and the less energy (exponentially!) it takes to open that hyperrift. This means that tiny hair-thick apertures can be opened to send data packets via simple infrared and radio waves, taking fractions of a second per lightyear to get from here to there. A distance that would take an FTL ship 16 hours to traverse would take an OTL ship 36 seconds, and a hypercomm only a hundredth of a second to broadcast. (These proportions are not completely accurate; do not operate heavy machinery while under the influence of a dilated space/time continuum without proper training and a certified license; your mileage may vary; consult your doctor to see which type of interstellar travel is right for you.)
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Blockade, (and complementing the final book in First Salik War series)?
Jean: I think my favorite part of writing THE BLOCKADE came in two parts. The first was when I saw Gene Mollica’s cover art. I was in the early stages of writing a scene that could’ve incorporated the art somewhat…and decided to rewrite that scene to fully embrace it, and it made that whole section of the story that much more awesome. The second favorite part I had was that in doing some science research for that scene, that led me to re-think about how the Terrans and the Alliance should, and could, bring the Salik to heel for the big battle at the end of the story.
When I realized there was an even better method for achieving their aims than I had originally envisioned, I got to go off on a science-research-junkie tangent to research what I was hoping would be true. (I am a science research junkie at heart, and try to always put in some actual real-world information into my stories, whether it’s about tea plantations, cheese making, or contemplating what would happen if the Higgs field conveniently went away for a little while on command.) What I found was indeed true, it was going to be far more easily calibrated to exactly what needed to be done, it could be done without any excess—unlike the original plans—it would use far less expensive materiél for the war effort than the original plans…and it was so flat-out clever in my opinion, I ended up giggling madly and bouncing a bit in my office chair when I realized it.
No, I’m not going to tell you how they solve the rather huge problem of getting the Salik to stop fighting and agree to talk peace. You’re just going to have to read the series to find out!
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for The Terrans and The V’Dan (the first two books in the series)? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Jean: Most of the reviews have been quite good. Everyone has mentioned enjoying seeing how these newcomers are introduced to Earth and then how the Terrans go from Earth to the culture shock of a society very different from their own. There is a bit of “that government is very Utopic and thus the characters come across as a bit too smug about it” which is understandable, particularly when you contrast it with what America is suffering today…but I like to think of that as a result of everyone going, “Let’s make a strong note in all our history books never to get this bad ever again.” To me, it was a case of writing a social goal for people to aim at, just like flip phone communicators and tablet computers, a Russian and an American (at the height of the Cold War) serving on the same crew as a black female officer, an asian male officer, so on and so forth.
Another thing people have enjoyed…in an agonizing sort of way…is the cliffhanger at the end of THE V’DAN. Part of that comes from the prejudices of the two cultures clashing more and more heavily. Part of it came from me putting my characters into a very untenable position at the end of all that cultural clashing, to the point where some very hard choices had to be made at a potentially great personal cost. Part of that simply had to happen because the story needed an ending point, and a cliffhanger is a perfectly valid point, particularly when it’s asserted so very thoroughly.
(I’m trying not to give away spoilers here, but let’s just say an ultimatum was delivered with righteous cause behind it…and the other party refused to come meet them even a quarter of the way, leading to the Very Strong Assertion at the end of the second novel, which was the big cliffhanger in question.)
DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?
Jean: Oh lord no. This trilogy is one of a very, very few novels that had more than one manuscript version. Most of my romances have been fresh manuscripts, as in what you see is pretty much the first draft aside from a few minor editing tweaks. But in regards to this universe, as I said, I’ve been working on all the stories in this universe for 25+ years, so I do have previous attempts at trying to write everything out. My writing has matured and evolved over the decades, and with it my ability to tell a more complex, realistic-feeling, solidly written story.
There is one previous draft version of this story sitting on my harddrive…and it wasn’t very good, compared to this one. It happens; as mentioned, my writing has had time to evolve and mature since then. On the bright side, it was only the one version. For the other series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, it was originally a two book story, which then became two books of two sub-books each, then just four books, and for a long time it was four books, some of which were written twice or more, others I had only written out specific vital scenes…and rewritten them, over and over… And then I got the go-ahead for the series, started writing, got all the way to the fourth book…and it was just too big, even though I did my best to condense it as much as possible.
Originally, Theirs Not to Reason Why was four books, called A SOLDIER’S DUTY, followed by AN OFFICER’S DUTY, then HELLFIRE, and DAMNATION. It evolved into HELLFIRE, HARDSHIP, and DAMNATION, because there was a natural break between the two novels based on starship names…and that story did come with a lot of hardships in it. (Amusing side note, my editor asked me when we were coming up with the title for that portion of the story, “Did you mean ‘hardship’ as in difficulties, or ‘hard ship’ as in a tough vessel?” And I had to reassure her “hardship as in difficulties, because there is no starship involved.” Literally, they’re stuck on a planet between starship assignments after the main character sort of deliberately demolished the first ship. For good reasons, honest!)
For the First Salik War series…it was originally just one book, then two books, then I realized, nope, it’s definitely a 3-part story. The original 1-book story was titled after the ship they were flying around in, Phoenix One, but I realized that would get confusing because I already had “Phoenix” picked out as an important title for something else entirely. Plus, the whole association with the concept of Aloha being used for the government policy of welcoming and inclusion, for the capital city, for a salutation at meetings and partings, that would be far better used for the name of the ship. Plus I realized they’d actually have a lot of these ships…and then I realized the story wasn’t about the ship at all. It was about the people.
When I realized the story was about the people, I had the first two titles, boom! THE TERRANS and THE V’DAN. The third title was supposed to be THE ALLIANCE, but I ended up sick for a while, my writing slowed down, and that title ended up getting used by an author writing for Ace/Roc, whose book was going to come out a few months before mine. My publisher asked me for something different, to avoid confusion between the two completely separate novels. It was just as well, because the final outline I’d come up with didn’t really deal with the Alliance as a central component of what was important.
I realized that dealing with the Salik was important in this story, the whole question of how to confine the Salik so they couldn’t continue to make war. That led to my choosing THE BLOCKADE as the final title. I’m glad I did, too; the original ending of the original version of this story wasn’t very well plotted.
(Spoiler that isn’t much of a spoiler, if you read the other series first—and I do recommend it for many other reasons—then you already know the solution they come up with is called that. You don’t have to read Theirs Not to Reason Why first; I know a lot of you would rather read about the First Salik War before the events of the Second Salik War, so that you read them chronologically. It’s just that the main character of the other series, Ia, is the keystone to the entire universe, past, present, and future. When you get to her story, you’ll start understanding a whole lot of other stuff in all the other stories that have been and/or will be written in this universe. Those who have read it have in fact taken to calling it the Ia-verse, similar to how the Honor Harrington readership calls that universe the Honor-verse. I like “the Ia-verse” and am now calling it that, too.)
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Blockade that you can share with us?
Jean: Oddly enough, given that it’s just past Halloween, I have the perfect quote. It’s Li’eth—the V’Dan protagonist—reacting to Terran culture, and here is what he says to Jackie and a couple of other characters who are with her:
“Last night, Robert showed that movie about zombies… What is your people’s fascination with the gruesome idea of supposedly dead bodies that somehow get back up and start attacking people? V’kol said he checked the database and found thousands of cultural entertainment methods referencing these horrible things.”
…It should be noted that roughly two hundred years after this moment, the main character of the other series is caught joking I believe three different times about the “inevitable” zombie apocalypse…which still has not happened yet, even by the late 25th century. It should also be noted that I am not a fan of zombie movies. I simply find the whole “zombie apocalypse preparedness” movement of the early 21st century to be rather amusing. (Mind you, the skills for such an event are important to know for many other, far more likely disasters one could prepare to handle.)
DJ: Now that The Blockade is released, what is next for you?
Jean: I’m working on a very long overdue fantasy romance novel, the fourth in my Guardians of Destiny series. My health has unfortunately been quite bad the last few years; I am getting better, but it’s slow-going and there have been a few setbacks along the way. I’m very glad my editor and the rest of the staff handling my stories at Berkley, Ace, and Intermix have been so kind and understanding. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to continuing this octilogy. Yes, it’s an 8-book series. In fact, it’s my second 8-book series, the first being the Sons of Destiny, which is linked to the Guardians series. Both are heavy on the fantasy plot, the romance with smutty bits, and even contain a decent amount of humor, more so than my science fiction.
This next book, THE TEMPLE, is also going to be tangibly racier than the others, since it’ll involve BDSM sensation play…and to reassure my readers, I not only know quite a lot about various kinds of kink personally, I’ll be passing the manuscript to at least three other people in the kink community both locally and across the States to make sure the information about BDSM practices is reasonably accurate and presented in a healthy manner. As wildly popular as a certain unnamed novel was, it did not present BDSM in a healthy way, following the watchwords of Safe, Sane, & Consensual. Now that the general public is more aware of such things and more open to reading and learning more, it is important for authors to get accurate, healthy information into our readers’ hands. Since I am an advocate for healthy, sane, safe, and consensual, I’ll be taking care with my story.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Blockade and the First Salik War series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Jean: It is very different from the other series, Theirs Not to Reason Why. That series was heavily focused on the military, literally taking the reader from the recruitment office to Basic Training, to combat, to an Officer’s Academy, to more combat, so on and so forth. The main character deals with everything from a military standpoint. This one has some military actions and mindsets in in it, some dealings with the brass, some officer responsibilities, and of course combat and dealing with allied and enemy soldiers, so on and so forth…but it is a different story. It is very much more first contact and political science fiction. The next series I’ll work on in the Ia-verse is probably going to be the Fire Girl Prophecies, and that will be yet again a completely different story. It will have politics in it, it will have combat and military conflicts in it, but it will not be identical to either of these two, or even all that close.
I know some of my milSF readers were disappointed that they didn’t get nearly as much combat action soldier-y stuff in the first two books so far, and I know that some of the readers who like the first contact and culture clashings of the First Salik War books might not necessarily like the other series with its much more miltary/soldier-y flavoring, but that’s okay. That’s part of why they’re written so differently. I do suggest taking a chance on reading them—borrow one of the starter books from your local library you’re super hesitant, or from a friend who has a copy; just remember to return it!—because you might find you actually like it anyway, despite it not being your normal thing.
I’ve had readers come over into the military scifi from fantasy romance who have told me they really liked the series when they hadn’t expected to. And I’ve had those who read the military stuff go and try my fantasy romances—yes, even dozens of men, well over fifty by now—and they hav told me, some of them in person to my face, how much they really liked those stories, too. Just give it a try. I don’t normally like horror as a genre, personally, but I do like certain authors’ works. I gave them a try, and I liked them. Maybe you’ll like something else in all the many different types of stories I write. I hope you do.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Jean: I do have one other series with a book being released in November 2016, and that is the Flame Sea series from Intermix, which is an ebook-only imprint from Penguin Random House & The Berkley Group. The first novel, DAWN OF THE FLAME SEA, introduced us to the Fae Rii, a group of long-lived, magically advanced interdimensional traders and explorers, winding up on a world in a desert setting among a bunch of Bronze Age humans. They weren’t supposed to end up living among them; the Fair Traders were were supposed to set up a hidden stronghold and observe from afar before making first contact contact, but, well, accidents happen.
The second novel, DEMONS OF THE FLAME SEA, takes place a couple decades later; the Fae discover they are not the only interdimensional visitors to this world. Unfortunately, the Efrijt may be technologically and magically advanced like the Fae, but they are far more interested in exploitation than exploration, and the poor humans are caught in the middle while the two groups struggle to determine who will rule over the right to have free access to this world.
The third in the series, GODS OF THE FLAME SEA, will come out sometime next year, I think in the summer, and showcases just exactly how much can go wrong when you try to raise a child in two very different cultures…and then forget that children always grow up to have their own opinions on what should be done with the resources at their command. Again, it’s a different flavor from other things I’ve had published, and it’s literally in a different universe from the other stories…but I will say that there is a link between the Flame Sea universe and the Destiny universe. Readers who enjoy reading the one series will find things to look forward to in the other, though some of it is subtle and some of it won’t be revealed until the last Guardians book is written and comes out.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Jean: My pleasure, and I hope everyone finds at least something in all of my many different books that they will like.
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*** The Blockade is published by Ace and is available TODAY!!! ***
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The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why.
The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.
Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.
Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?
About the Author:
Jean Johnson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she is busy struggling to unbury herself from the mountain of plot-bunnies swarming her office.