Interview with Philip Adams, author of Momentary Stasis

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Welcome to fellow author Philip Adams, author of Momentary Stasis and other works.  The previous interview with Megan Rutter went so well that I decided to do another one–and once again got an interesting perspective on a book that I liked.  (Full disclosure, I helped edit this–and I still found out things I hadn’t known.)

1.  Momentary Stasis is a military SF novel.  What’s your relationship with the military–and does Rimes’s attitude reflect your own?

I’ll break my answer into three pieces.

First, I would stress that Momentary Stasis has the chassis and transmission of a military SF novel, but there’s more to the Rimes trilogy than a big slog through a military campaign. I’ve followed the expected tropes and structures of the sub-genre, but I also have influences from cyberpunk, thrillers, horror, and there’s a lot in common with the transhumanist sub-genre, which I discovered after wrapping the series.

Second, I had a twenty-year career in the military, most of that in IT.

Third, yes, I think there are elements of me in Jack Rimes. On the positive side, some of Rimes’s innocence and decency comes from my own naïveté and hopefulness. I signed up for service at 17, and I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I just knew I wanted to get out of a dead-end life. My objectives were to get a degree and marketable skill. I lucked into the opportunity for the latter. For Rimes and so many people in the modern military, there’s only one option: learning to be a warrior. Rimes has the motivation to be great at that, combined with a curiosity and resourcefulness, which provides the rationale for the story. On the negative side, I think some of my outsider tendencies are at least hinted at with Rimes. He questions authority a bit, he thinks outside the box, and he just won’t let something go when he knows it’s wrong.

2.  Most dystopias tend to focus on one element of society that has gone amuck, then extrapolate how other elements of society and technology would be affected.  Do you feel like that’s how you put the dystopian aspects of your story together? What sent you off in that direction?

I guess you could pull back to a spy satellite view and say that human nature at its worst caused societal collapse in the setting, otherwise, it’s a messy stew of causes.

The original story idea I had in the 1990s had at the core of the setting hostile corporations run amuck. When I started refining that story into the final version, I had to challenge that. A corporation is only as powerful as a society allows it to be, so I had to drill down into how things became so broken.

We had mega-mergers galore back in the 1990s, and we dropped the ball on enforcing sanctions against the most abusive corporation in history when Microsoft’s penalties were turned into a wrist slap. But how does that allow for private armies and direct influence over basic government functions? That’s a huge jump, and it had to be addressed, even though we can see the beginnings of this today with Blackwater and K Street in the US.

We had two crushing recessions in a six year span to study like tea leaves, and it would be easy to argue there was corporate influence over some of the wars we’ve had lately. But all of that can be attributed to individual greed, hubris, ideology, and incompetence in positions of power. Corporations could be argued as enablers rather than the drivers.

So, I had to drill down a bit to explain what created this world. In the timeline for the setting, there are specific individuals and actions behind the mega-merger rush and dissolution of policies that would otherwise prevent those mergers. All of that ends up eventually creating the big metacorporations (corporations consisting of corporations).

I didn’t go bold and wild on my speculation. I took existing trends and projected those out. We already have a significant body of evidence about what happens when you let an economy run wild. In Momentary Stasis, I offhandedly mention the depressions that have led to a world where that has more or less reached economic equilibrium. Those depressions come from greed and continued agglomeration of wealth and the resulting power to a smaller and smaller group of individuals. There’s a theme throughout of intelligent life being self-destructive. I consider this behavior one of the manifestations of that. We’ve seen before what happens when the gap between the wealthy and poor grows too wide—guillotines and purges and all sorts of other terrible things. Will a society that can be distracted and placated by reality TV and smartphones have the will to rise up and stop something that’s clearly destroying them? With the setting in the Rimes trilogy, my answer is no, they won’t.

As for the technology impact, I mention this in the books without diving into detail. When there’s such a disparity in wealth, and there just aren’t that many people acting as consumers, the impact is pretty obvious. Corporations cater to government, the wealthy, and other businesses. Your motivation to innovate plunges. So the innovation is there for the customers I mentioned before, and Joe and Jane Average see incremental ticks in technology and a never-ending quest for efficiency. Wal-Mart in Space!

3.  Are there any incidents in the book pulled more or less out of your experience? 

I was a REMF, so only in the broadest sense possible do my experiences come into play. Corrupt people in positions of trust, gross incompetence or arrogance that threaten the mission and the good people relying on support, crazy bouts of nationalism and loyalty, and a heckuva lot of petty vindictiveness: Those were the things I experienced that informed the story, and they helped kick that silly naïveté out of me.

4.  Okay, I don’t want to give any spoilers for the rest of the series, but would you talk for a few moments from a writerly perspective on the difference between plots of the individual books versus those of the larger series?  I thought that the fact that the series blossomed into a bigger scope so smoothly in the second book was one of the big highlights for me, and I want to talk about how you decided to do that, what techniques you used–feel free to go full nerd here.

I need to insert a little background for this to make sense. As I mentioned, the Rimes story comes from something I worked up in the 1990s. I launched a comic book company that started out with a superhero universe just as the market imploded. I turned to non-superhero stories after that. One of those was this massive, sprawling dark sci-fi series originally called The Doll House. It was multi-POV, with Rimes being one of several protagonists. Other characters included a police detective investigating murders among the UN staff (including a diplomat), a young journalist investigating corporate shenanigans, a scientist doing deep space research (Jennifer Credence from Awakening to Judgment), an assassin cleaning up messes left by several metacorporate executives, and a young executive fighting her way up the ranks at the biggest metacorporation. And all of those stories were designed to slowly connect over the years.

When I started turning that into the Rimes trilogy, I had to figure out how to boil things down to their essence. I did what I would imagine is fairly typical and worked backwards, taking the ending and building to the beginning. Going in, I had the final situation, the two wars that were necessary for that final situation to come about, and the events that were necessary to make those wars happen. I needed a continuous build from the start toward that crescendo, so I had to make sure the seeds were sown throughout the first two books. How does the Colonel Rimes at the close of Awakening to Judgment grow from the Sergeant Rimes we meet at the start of Momentary Stasis? Anything that wasn’t critical to that story, to that specific trajectory, was dropped out. And then more was trimmed out during editing, which made for a more focused and faster-paced opening.

One thing I was happy with was the way I was able to give each book a distinctive flavor. Momentary Stasis owes a bit to techno-thrillers, Transition of Order has some nods to horror, and Awakening to Judgment mixes mystery and spy thriller elements in with the more conventional military SF. That helped keep things fresh for me, and many readers have said it helped make the series more engaging.

Once all the planning was done, I had to figure out how to make what was really a story with cyberpunk aesthetics fit into this military SF framework. My experience with military SF at the time was limited to Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe Cycle (Dorsai), Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, John Steakley’s Armor, several of David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers short works, Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando Star Wars books, “Aliens,” “Starship Troopers” (the movie), and a few aborted attempts at Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel as a teen; I would include in there the “Space: Above and Beyond” TV show and some military non-fiction as big influences. Thanks to encouragement during editing, I expanded that list out to more Hammer’s Slammers, Traviss’s Gears of War books, actually finishing Starship Troopers, and reading some newer military SF works from the trad pub and indie world.

None of that directly helped with the Rimes trilogy because of the difference between what I was trying to accomplish and what those accomplished, but the experience helped me grow as a writer.

5.  I think you mentioned that this series was your “Philip K. Dick”-influenced series.  (Feel free to correct me.)  If so, what made you decide to write a PKD military SF dystopian thriller?

I’ve read more PKD than any other SF writer, and that’s by a healthy margin, so I think it’s inevitable his work influenced me. I would boil his works down to three major themes:

  • the everyman protagonist’s struggles against things gone terribly awry
  • reality isn’t so certain as you think (not always associated with drugs)
  • what makes us human?

When you start talking about transhumanism, you nail that third theme. In the Rimes trilogy, there are several things that challenge the definition of human, starting with the genies. If you construct a human from tailored DNA—sometimes alien DNA—is that person truly human? Rimes wrestles with that. Then there are proxies. Rimes is obviously put off by these, and we see some of the reasons in the second and third books. To a lesser extent, there’s genetic modification (gene tweaks) and chemical enhancements. Even the ever-present “stim,” the chemical tool used to fight off sleep, pain, and injury takes a toll on a person’s humanity.

The nature of reality is addressed at different levels throughout the series. Rimes’s work with the Intelligence Bureau in Momentary Stasis dramatically changes his understanding of the world. The revelations grow in scale as the series progresses.

Given Rimes’s exceptional training, some would argue he can’t be an everyman protagonist. Considering the level of growth he undergoes throughout the series, I would argue he is the classic everyman. His bewilderment about his own ignorance and his despair over the sorry state of things are both fairly typical of that type of character. Knowing how to kill someone in a dozen different ways doesn’t make someone a superhuman protagonist, especially in a world where such a person is a commodity. Knowledge is what makes someone exceptional in an information society, and it’s probably the most heavily guarded valuable in the universe.

And last but not least…  6.  Is there any note you’d like to leave your readers on?  (The additional promo question.)

Although I trimmed out a lot of the universe’s non-essential elements for the Rimes trilogy, I didn’t throw it all away. The ERF series continues where the Rimes trilogy leaves off. The Lancers series picks up around the same time, but it explores the universe through a very different set of eyes. There’s also a prequel trilogy I need to get rolling on, and that develops a good bit of the history. And one day, I hope to get to the Go series (Matthias “Go” Goonetilleke is a private detective who shows up in Awakening to Judgment).

And I have a pretty cool urban fantasy series (The Chain) starting next year also.

Phil Adams was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. His twenty-year Air Force career took him from coast to coast, with stints at Homestead AFB, FL, George AFB, CA, Scott AFB, IL, and the Yongsan installation in Seoul, South Korea. He retired and moved to the greater Denver, Colorado metropolitan area.

Phil writes speculative fiction, mostly science fiction and fantasy. His favorite writers over the years have been Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and Michael Crichton.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike

    Thanks for the interview with Phil Adams, DeAnna.

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