Today I am interviewing Thomas Heasman-Hunt, debut author of the new science-fiction novel, Legacy.
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DJ: Hey Thomas! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thomas Heasman-Hunt: No problem. I’m a 31-year-old part-time author (in other words, like most writers, I have a day job…) living in Cambridgeshire in the UK. I’ve been writing, telling stories, playing make-believe and so forth for as long as I can remember, but I started doing it in earnest and trying to make a career out of it perhaps seven or eight years ago. I first tried writing a novel, which was a long slog to get finished and, once it was done, failed to win over any agents or publishers. I’m quite grateful for that now because it was very much a ‘first novel’ and had no business seeing the light of day! But it kind of got it out of my system and I started to try my hand at short fiction instead. I put it all on a blog (theserialwritist.wordpress.com), just so I could amass a portfolio of work, and it ended up being a multi-year odyssey of fiction writing that birthed dozens of short stories, novellas and a handful of full novels, totaling over a million words altogether. Legacy was one of those novels (well, actually, six short stories that have been edited and combined into one work). I’m very glad that, out of everything I’ve done, that’s the one I’ve managed to get to a wider audience.
DJ: What is Legacy about?
Thomas: It’s pure space opera – a fun, free-wheeling adventure across interstellar space that gradually raises the stakes until the future of the entire galaxy hangs in the balance. The hero, Emily Ajax, is the daughter of a legendary starship captain and has spent her whole life living in his shadow. When he dies unexpectedly, she’s left trying to figure out some interstellar legalese regarding ownership of a remote moon base that her father’s former executive officer is strangely intent on keeping from her. What starts as a bunch of rich kids going off on a jaunt across space ends up uncovering a galactic conspiracy that the late Captain Ajax was at the very heart of. Emily has to grapple with uncomfortable truths about her father and the stories she’s grown up hearing about him, as well as try to stop a tyrant who’s all-too-familiar to her while commanding The Sunskimmer, her father’s old ship. At the same time, her friends and crew must grow into their new lives as outlaws, and a bounty hunter with a dark secret and a very strange connection to Emily comes aboard.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Legacy?
Thomas: When I wrote the first story (which is now chapters 1 – 3 in the complete novel), it was to round out a sci-fi collection I was putting on Kindle. I needed some ‘exclusive’ content that hadn’t been published on the blog, and it seemed like writing some good, old-fashioned space opera would be a fun way to churn out a few thousand words! So, my influences were the kind of sci-fi I grew up reading and watching – Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly; shows and movies like that, and the books of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein and Ian M Banks. Basically anything with starships and ray guns and that sort of thing. But I also studied physics at university (briefly…), so I have a bit of a grounding in hard sci-fi – I read a lot of Arthur C Clark and Stephen Baxter, and some of that creeps into Legacy. In many ways, it’s really a kind of homage/remix/rip-off of all that pop-culture sci-fi we know and love – there’s a lot that’ll be familiar to many readers, in a sense – but hopefully with enough wit and panache and genuine moments that it doesn’t look like I’m riding anyone else’s coattails too much!
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Thomas: There are three main protagonists that the plot revolves around. The villain I won’t reveal here so as not to give away one of the book’s early surprises!
Emily Ajax is the hero of the story; she’s the daughter of the most famous hero in recent galactic history, Robert Ajax, and has had a very privileged upbringing as a result of that and her mother’s standing in her home system. She’s wealthy, a bit arrogant and rather spoiled. The whole story kicks off with her petulance at being denied something she believes is rightfully hers, although she doesn’t even particularly want it. But she’s also brave to the point of recklessness, incredibly calm in a crisis, knows how to handle people and is unswervingly loyal to her friends. She has a deep well of compassion and a strong sense of right and wrong, so saving the galaxy is second nature to her. People around her find her both somewhat insufferable and incredibly magnetic. One thing in the setting that makes her almost unique is that she lacks the sense of primal, gut-level terror at braving the vacuum of space that everyone else has, a trait she shares with her father. She belongs out there, commanding a starship, so that’s what she does – very little can sway her once her mind is set!
Emily’s chosen executive officer on The Sunskimmer is her childhood friend, Jilly. Unlike Emily, Jilly is very sensible and level-headed. She’s there to curb Emily’s wilder impulses; to object when she suggests something particularly foolhardy and offer a better alternative. Unfortunately for Jilly, life as an outlaw puts her in some very dangerous situations, which have a big effect on her. She’s not a hero like Emily (or at least, she doesn’t think she is) and her unflappable calm gets severely compromised. Her strength is very different to her friend’s, but she can rise to the occasion too.
Finally rounding out the trio is Reeve. She’s a bounty hunter, ostensibly tracking Emily, but ends up joining the crew instead. Reeve is the odd one out on The Sunskimmer – far from being a rich scion from a wealthy system, she’s from a barbaric corner of space called the Darkstar Nebula, a place of perpetual gloom inhabited by a society of vicious raiders. Robert Ajax’s famous war was fought against these people, and their defeat left them embittered. Needless to say, Reeve’s feelings towards the daughter of her people’s most hated enemy are complex! And it turns out, there’s an even deeper, stranger connection between the scarred, brutal Darkstar Raider and her new captain. Reeve is tough and dangerous. She has disfiguring scars from plasma burns across most of one side of her body and exudes a palpable aura of menace. Most of her new crewmates think she’s some kind of monster, but she wins Emily’s trust and friendship early on. Pragmatic and unsentimental, she represents the harsh reality of life on the run in a hostile galaxy.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Legacy like?
Thomas: Legacy takes place in our own galaxy, but it’s set in a very distant future. So distant, that not only does no one in the story know anything about Earth, they don’t even know for certain that the human race arose on a single homeworld! Humans colonized almost the entire galaxy in the forgotten past, and call it the Four Quadrants. There aren’t any aliens, nor does the possibility of their existence even occur to the characters – life as part of an interstellar civilization is simply all they know, and since they don’t even know where they come from, there’s no reason to look for other forms of life elsewhere. Understandably, human society in the Four Quadrants is incredibly diverse, but the largest government is the Free Planets, which effectively rules all of humanity’s worlds except for a few remote pockets here and there. It’s a vast, complex bureaucracy that is represented on the frontiers by their powerful Spacefleet, which is how our protagonists mostly relate to it. Emily and her crew travel to a number of different planets and star systems in their native Southern Quadrant, but they really see only a tiny fraction of what’s out there. Some places are primitive and ruled by religious zealots, others were once under the sway of ancient empires who’ve left behind strange technology and priceless relics, and some struggle under the yoke of cruel, arch-capitalist regimes. It’s a big, old galaxy, and almost anything is possible…
DJ This is a science-fiction novel, so I’m pretty sure there is some unwritten rule out there that says I have to ask you about the technology in you novel 😛 So, what sort of tech and weaponry did come up with?
Thomas: A lot of it will be familiar to any space opera fan – basically it’s word-salad technobabble. The ships fire things like ion cannons or plasma lances and have magnetic deflector fields, stuff like that. The characters use holographic interfaces and there are autonomous drones they control with implanted wetware. Some scenes feature clones – meaning, in this sense, vat-grown artificial humans with no higher brain functions – which are necessary for certain things (like interstellar property law, oddly, due to the complexities of relative time-dilation being beyond the easy conception of ordinary humans). But the biggest thing is the tidal drive, which is pretty important to the story. This is my technobabble for getting the ships to move faster than light and basically involves orbiting a star at very high velocity and attuning the vessel to its gravity in order to pass through the fabric of three-dimensional spacetime to travel in fourth-dimensional space to another gravity well. This means the ships can’t just suddenly leap to light-speed when they need to, and can’t just arrive wherever they want. They have to physically fly into close orbit of a star (itself a risk), skim the photosphere as fast as possible and chance a half-blind jump into the unknown. It makes for some dramatic moments and gambits as the scale of space is so vast and getting from a planet to its star can take hours or days. When not using the tidal drive, the ships are stuck using plain old physics, firing weapons at targets thousands of kilometers away, trying to stay in orbit while being pulled at by immense gravitational forces and using tiny shuttles to cross vast gulfs of emptiness. I wanted space to seem huge, dangerous and totally counter-intuitive, which is why any FTL technology had to be tricky to use. There’s no point writing a story about interstellar travel if jetting around the galaxy is easy!
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Legacy?
Thomas: It was all fun. That’s why I wanted to write a story about people having adventures, being brave, saving the day. It had to be fun. I wrote it in quite a short time, but I spent a long while mulling over where the story would go as I did. Because I conceived it as six distinct episodes, it meant I was always planning the next installment, as it were. The ending had been in my head for so long, that when I finally came to write it, it felt really great to see it unfold in such a satisfying way. The ending is a genuine spectacle, and the final image will stay with readers for a while, I think.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Thomas: The final scene, I’m sure. It’s a doozy.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing Legacy? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Thomas: It’s about doing the right thing and standing up for something bigger than yourself. Emily and her crew take tremendous risks and they don’t always know what their end goal really is: they just trust to their instincts and take each situation as they find it. In the end, that’s all they can do. And they trust each other. It was important to me that I build that central relationship between the three protagonists which is the core of the whole story, as well as the dynamic of a daughter living up to the legacy of her father, which isn’t something you see so much in genre fiction. There’s conflict and danger, but the friendships, the respect, the love, remain rock-steady. I think that will speak to readers.
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 Legacy that you can share with us?
Thomas: There’s a quote which bookends the story. You read it right at the start, but it’s repeated near the end too, where it gains a lot more resonance: “Gravity: it brings us together, and it rips us apart.” It’s a sentiment that underpins the whole story, both from a point of view of the setting and its technology and what the characters go through.
DJ: Now that Legacy is released, what is next for you?
Thomas: The sequel has already been written. I’m hopeful that the response to Legacy will be positive enough that Cynefin Road will want to put out the follow-up too.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Thomas: I’ve mentioned the blog already. My Twitter is @ThommyH_H, but basically if you Google me you’ll find everything – I’m the only Thomas Heasman-Hunt there is!
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Legacy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Thomas: Progressive causes and representation are really important to me. Legacy is, first and foremost, a story that I wanted to tell and had good fun writing, but it’s also about three women existing unapologetically. One of the great things about speculative fiction is being able to create a world that runs on a different set of assumptions from our own. The societies of the Four Quadrants have no connection with our own, so there’s no reason the story has to reflect its limitations. We go to some dark places, but in the far-future of Legacy, there is no systemic discrimination based on gender, race or sexuality.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Legacy is published by Cynefin Road and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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In a distant part of space in some unknown epoch, humanity has spread across the stars. With access to wondrous technology like the tidal drive that allows for interstellar travel – albeit not without cost – peace has been won after long years of conflict. The architect of that peace was the swashbuckling Captain Ajax, a hero and a legend. But now Captain Ajax has died, leaving his daughter and only heir, Emily, to grapple with his legacy.
The petulance of a spoiled princess opens the door to a galactic conspiracy, and sets the scene for a new conflict in the troubled Four Quadrants. Emily Ajax has a lot to live up to, but in command of her father’s famous ship, The Sunskimmer, she may have the potential to become a hero of even greater renown than him.
Thomas Heasman-Hunt is a writer and “noisy boy” (E Heasman-Hunt, 2015). He’s been creating fiction since he was old enough to do different voices for his toys, with varying degrees of success. In 2012, emboldened by the world not ending, he began writing short stories and has rebuffed all attempts at being stopped. From his masses of fiction came literally several publishable works, of which his Cynefin debut is just one. He lives in Cambridgeshire with his wife, Emma, and their tortoise, Meat Pie, but can also be found on the internet shouting ineffectually about various progressive causes. When not writing he tries, like many large mammals, to split his time equally between sleeping and eating. He specialises in genre fiction, particularly speculative fiction, but has also turned his hand to contemporary and literary fiction. A prolific and passionate writer, Thomas is constantly updating his blog with new content. You can keep up with him on Twitter @ThommyH_H