Today I am interviewing Alex Lamb, author of the new science-fiction novel, Nemesis, second book in the Roboteer trilogy.
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DJ: Hey Alex! Thanks for coming back for another interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you (or missed out on your previous interview) , could you tell us a little about yourself?
Alex Lamb: Sure. Well, I’m a dad. I live in Santa Cruz, CA, and I was born in Oxford, England. I’ve had a slightly unusual career that’s involved me doing a bunch of different things. Writing computer software to pay the bills and writing novels for joy have been two constants. Besides that, I’ve been an improv instructor, a communication skills trainer, and a sort of semi-pro simulation scientist working in everything from quantum gravity research, to evolutionary biology, to economics.
Alex: It’s primarily about a young guy called Mark who’s basically the estranged protégé of Will Kuno-Monet, the hero from the first book. Life hasn’t been easy for him. A lot of the projects that Will started after the end of Roboteer haven’t panned out well, including his plan to launch a new breed of super-high-functioning roboteers, of which Mark is one. Mark has a lot of edgy tech in his body that he’s not allowed to talk about and by this point a pretty bitter relationship with both Will and the government that helped create him.
About thirty years have passed since the war in the first book, and society as reached another turning point. War is on the brink of breaking out again. And into this volatile mix comes word of a violent attack on a politically sensitive outpost that may or may not be due to aliens.
Will draws Mark into the mission to investigate. Things go wildly south. Adventure ensues that involves high-speed space battles, giant fighting robots, ultra-advanced alien technology, mysterious ruins, secret plots, and looming threats to the human race.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Nemesis and the Roboteer trilogy?
Alex: There are too many to name. I was a science fiction junkie from about the time I could talk. However, a few that people might recognize in the writing are Peter F. Hamilton, Iain Banks, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, Neal Stevenson, Isaac Asimov, Alasdair Reynolds, Stanislaw Lem… I could go on.
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?
Alex: Mark is the brooding type. Sweary. Hard-drinking. Prone to pointed remarks. He has a bunch of complicated daddy-issues, which is understandable given that his genetic half-father is a living god composed of alien nanotechnology who’s more than a little distracted by having responsibility for the security of the entire human race. It doesn’t help that the closest thing he ever had to a real mother has been left for dead in space in a place he can’t get to. He’s also the best starship pilot in the human race and filled with more combat enhancement technology than most people know exists.
Then there’s Will, who at this point is an almost indestructible super-being who can move faster than people see, heals in seconds, and can control robots with his mind. He also has ownership of the most powerful battle-cruiser in human space: a starship with the power to obliterate worlds and vaporize entire fleets. The problem is, his job is to play politics and be nice to people he doesn’t like, which he’s neither good at nor enjoys. After thirty years of that, he’s on a hair-trigger and ready to deliver some damage to whoever looks at him the wrong way.
There’s also Ann Ludik, a coldly brilliant starship captain, policewoman, and occasional undercover agent. She’s a champion of the law, but has been drawn into a shadowy plot to secure the survival of civilization. She’s deeply conflicted by the role finds herself playing and ends up influencing the trajectories of both Mark and Will. Along the way, she discovers more than she ever bargained for.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Roboteer trilogy like?
Alex: Nemesis plays out against an interstellar human civilization that’s never properly healed in the wake of its last conflict. The under-populated but technologically superior colonies are at odds with the vastly over-populated and slowly dying Earth. What they’re squabbling over is a vast swathe of stars at the edge of the human domain accessible via a single warp-bridge.
Those systems are full of ten-million-year-old alien ruins and littered with technological miracles that both sides want to benefit from. The negotiations aren’t going well. It doesn’t help that the Colonials are die-hard atheists with a chip on their shoulder about Earth’s imperialist habits, while the Earthers are hardcore theocrats bitter over losing the war.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Nemesis?
Alex: Wow. There were so many elements that were so fun. Extending the Roboteer universe was incredibly rewarding. But I probably had the most fun plotting the book, fitting wheels within wheels, and thinking up desperate scrapes for my characters to get out of. Plus discovering what kinds of things my characters had to say for themselves when I put them in horrendous, unpredictable situations.
DJ: Normally I ask what do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it, but since this book has already come out in UK, you already know! So, what has everyone been saying about Nemesis?
Alex: Thus far, people seem to be loving it. I enjoy reading my reviews and I got long-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke award on my second novel, so I’m pleased with how things have been panning out.
People seem to really like the world-building and the pacing of the book. Some of my favorite reviews say things like ‘this doesn’t feel like a second novel, it’s stronger than the first’ and things like that. I wanted to write a sequel that could stand alone as a novel in its own right for people who hadn’t encountered Roboteer. I think I pulled that off.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Roboteer trilogy? Nemesis is only the second book, but 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?
Alex: In Roboteer, I wanted to raise the question of what it meant for an intelligent species to survive and not wipe itself out. I wanted to talk about the nature of human conflict in science fiction in a new way. With Nemesis, and the third book, Exodus, I wanted to try to answer that question.
Conveniently, by the time I started Nemesis, I was sitting on some complex systems research results from a brief stint I did in the evolutionary biology department at Princeton. I felt like I actually had an answer to my question that made sense, and that had never seen the light of day in a novel before. Or a science paper, for that matter. This trilogy was a chance for me to talk about the key issues that I think face the human race as well as entertaining my audience.
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 Nemesis that you can share with us?
Alex: I like my first line:
The end of civilisation looked like two angry red points.
I also loved a lot of the blunt, terrible stuff that came out of Mark’s head while I was writing his POV. He was a really fun character to discover. Things like this:
He pointed to an athletic-looking woman with a buzz cut and don’t fuck with me eyes who looked like she’d be equally at home in a lab-coat or at the safe end of a sniper’s rifle. He’d heard of Andromeda but never met her in person. She had the reputation of being scary effective and about as warm as a nice day on Triton.
DJ: Now that Nemesis is released, what is next for you?
Alex: I’m in discussion with Gollancz about that. Hopefully, another series in a new SF universe with different technologies, different politics, and even more ambitious hard-SF space-battle adventuring.
I’ve also been working on some really fun software projects with the SETI Institute, demonstrating the creation of life from dead chemistry in a real-time interactive simulation, for science outreach purposes. We showed off version one at Comic Con San Jose and I had a blast. With luck, I’ll get to do more of that sort of thing too.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alex-Lamb/e/B011S3MKD2/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Nemesis and the Roboteer trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Alex: Not sure it’s one specific thing, exactly, but your question gives me a chance to mention what I’m passionate about. I see a good SF novel as thinking person’s adventure fiction, and that’s what I try to write. There’s plenty of fun to be had in Roboteer and Nemesis, but there’s also social commentary, discussion of the human condition, and some double-edged politics to mull over. I’m hoping to reach readers who want something to chew on as well as an engrossing thrill ride.
To my mind, science fiction novels are about as high an art form as we as a society aspire to. That’s because there’s character, story, and everything else that you find in mainstream fiction, plus world-building, sociology, scientific speculation, deep conceptual novelty, and an attempt to kindle a sensation of awe and wonder in the reader. That also makes SF readers, to my mind at least, some of the bravest and most adventurous readers there are. SF is an art form that makes it hard to deliver real excellence, but all the joy is in the trying, so that’s what I try to do.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Alex: Sure. I consider all novels as experiments. And when you write a novel, you only find out how your experiment has gone when people tell you about it. So whether you dislike the books or love them, I’m keen to hear about it. For anyone who has an opinion and feels comfortable sharing it, please either leave a review somewhere I can see it, or drop me a line via my Facebook page. Whatever you’re thinking, I want to know.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Alex: My absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me back!
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Years ago, one starship and its crew discovered an alien entity which changed everything. Its discovery finally bought an end to the interstellar war being fought between the masses of humanity and the few pockets of genetically engineered colonists. An uneasy peace was negotiated as the human race realised there was something else sharing our universe. Something that had plans for us.
But the aliens have remained silent. The earthers have begun to test the edges of the peace treaty. Will, once a roboteer, once a human, now the most powerful being alive, has been sidelined and ignored. And a system-wide conspiracy threatens to plunge humanity back into war.
Now one man, his head full of alien technology that lets him interact with machinery, must get to the bottom of the plot, find out what the aliens want, stop the oncoming war and save Will. And his journey will uncover a new threat to humanity.
Nemesis is coming.
Alexander Lamb splits his time between writing science fiction, software engineering, teaching improvised theater, running business communication skills workshops, and conducting complex systems research.
Currently, he has two short pieces of fiction in print, Ithrulene, a short story in the Polyphony 5 anthology by Wheatland Press, which was singled out for praise by Gardener Dozois in his end of year review for Locus, and Eleven Orchid St, which appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet with highly positive reviews. He is a graduate of the Clarion West writers program and a Milford group attendee.
As an improviser, Alex has founded four theater companies and is the inventor of the archetypal improv style, a technique used to bring Joseph Campbell’s theories of narrative structure to unscripted theater. As Britain’s foremost expert on spontaneous plotting, he has created play formats now used and enjoyed across the world from London to San Francisco.
As a trainer, he has worked with CEOs, high school students, international sales professionals, astrophysicists, doctors, world-class athletes, and graduate students. He has twice been a speaker at ASTD International—the largest business training conference in the world.
In his day jobs, Alex has worked on the trading floors of international finance, crafted the next generation of man-machine interfaces and worked as an Artificial Intelligence researcher on three continents. He’s worked on mobile applications for the publishing industry and large-scale simulation of battlefields for the US Department of Defense, for the purposes of enabling the evacuation of soldiers by robot.
He has also held the position of Research Scholar in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dept. at Princeton University, where he worked on computer simulations of complex systems. His research has spanned the simulation of gossip, the formation of human cultural norms, the arise of wealth inequality in society, new algorithms for general machine intelligence, and the modeling of the Planck-length structure of spacetime. He has several blogs, one focussed on behavior science and improv, the other on algorithmic approaches to physics.
He currently lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife, Genevieve Graves, (an award-winning astrophysicist turned data scientist), and his two-year-old son, Thorfinn.