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Today's Chat with Sarah features Jude Austin author of the Projects series which includes Project Tau and yet-to-be-released Homecoming.
To find Project Tau and keep track of when Homecoming is available, view her author page on Amazon here.
1. First, I have to mention that I read Project Tau as well as the article on the online bookclub that you wrote (for those that don't know it was a wonderfully creative interview of the two main characters from that book). You are so talented! How did you get to be such a great writer with so much imagination?
(laughs) After that, what can I say but a hugely-blushing thank you? Imagination has never been an issue; when I was a child, I used to write short stories all the time. Cassette recorders were still very much a thing back then, so I also used to record them sometimes, but I've always been more of a writer than a teller. I'm an only child and I grew up in the sticks, so I was always inventing new games with imaginary friends and acting out plots. Actually, I still act out scenes, if I'm stuck for what to write. It's gotten a little harder though, since we recently adopted a young cat who seems to think, "I'm going to act out this confrontation," is secret human-speak for, "Please glomp my ankle with extreme prejudice and race away at warp speed."
I can't really speak for the talented part, but I'm very happy you think so!
2. I know you have a bone to pick with those that would call your books dystopian. What is your vision of the future and how does that come into play in your writing?
I'd like to think people of the future will be a lot more sensible than they are now. This crazy political correctness virus that's infecting so many countries will definitely be a thing of the past! In the future, so long as you don't break the law, nobody's going to care about your gender, or your sexual preferences, or your race. Sad to say, I think that the people of the future will view this particular time period with a certain amount of embarrassment.
3. For this interview, I'd like to focus on Homecoming which is the sequel to Project Tau. This book picks up right where the last left off. How many books total are you planning?
I have no idea. The next two are planned out, and I have vague ideas beyond that. I also want to do a couple of spin-offs, and I'm working on a new comic fantasy series, so I don't know if the next release will be Book 1 of that or Book 3 of Projects, or if they'll come out at around the same time.
4. Was the second book more difficult to write or did they both just flow?
The second book got a lot easier once I split Tau and Kata up, but it was still harder to write overall.
5. Project Tau took place in mostly one setting while it looks like Homecoming travels to several planets. How did you build these worlds?
You're asking me about world-building? You brave soul! You do realize I have maps, detailed lists of flora and fauna, histories and laws of all my worlds, including differences between continents, right? (I'm also a linguist, so I can't resist adding languages and alphabets to those worlds either!)
Though in this case, I didn't build so much as recycle (laughs) I can't speak for other sci-fi authors, but I'm the author equivalent of someone who saves up little bits of string, because you never know when they're going to come in handy. Only instead of string, I save up worlds and civilizations. There are three we visit and one that's mentioned a lot, but which the characters never set foot on.
One of the planets the characters visit in Homecoming is Sedna, which is a real dwarf planet in our own system. This far into the future, our system has been overbuilt and the trendy places are the 'new' planets, such as Trandellia and Akkhen, so settlements on the original planets are rather run-down. The mass exodus of 2801 didn't help much either
Kata's homeworld. The story behind it is that it was something of a failed experiment at the start, an attempt to try and get back to living off the land. The ones behind it sent four young women in as rulers, thinking that they'd make for great puppet leaders. The women themselves had other ideas and managed to hold back any bids for power. When the bad guys started resorting to things like sabotage, the four decided to fight fire with fire and welcomed those with criminal backgrounds. End result: Trandellia won its independence and a reputation as a planet you don't want to mess with. The Founding, as it's usually referred to, happened about 3-400 years before the events in Project Tau. Trandellia's also the only source of orillium, which is the fuel source that ships rely on – before it was discovered and refined, interplanetary travel was a very long, rather tedious process – so, as you can imagine, it's very rich.
Pronounced At-theeras, for the curious among you
I can't remember how I came up with the idea of pleasure worlds; ie, worlds where you can do as you please from morning to night. I think of myself as someone who writes reality, and while a planet where you do what you like 24/7 sounds wonderful, the reality is pretty horrific. "Doing what you like" can mean adding on a swimming pool without all the tedium of planning permission, or it can mean finding a house that already has a pool, killing the occupants and taking it for yourself. It's popular among hunters and those looking for the ultimate in wilderness survival.
Pronounced like the word again, only with a hard K instead of a G.
I created this one when I was about 11-12. I still have the very bad fanfic I wrote about it in my room; I read it when I need something that can make me laugh until I'm in danger of coughing up a rib XD One thing I loved about Homecoming was that it gave me the opportunity to bring Akkhen back.
Anyway, Akkhen used to be a military-run planet. And...yeah, okay, I'm not going to lie; this one was dystopian. Slaves, secret police, "re-education" camps; the works. To cut a long story very short, a young woman called Katherine Arrent rose up, formed a rebel army and overthrew the regime in what Akkhenians refer to as the Insurrection. It happened about 40 years after the Trandellian Founding, which gave rise to the alliance between the two planets. These days, Akkhen is still pure military, and citizens are obliged to serve ten years. This is because it took ten years from the beginning of the rebellion to actual victory, so from an Akkhenian point of view, it's seen as honoring the sacrifices. However, the planet itself is a great place now; pretty safe and free. Out of all the planets mentioned, this is definitely the one where I'd like to live.
6. What do you most want your readers to know about this series and Homecoming in particular?
Besides the "It's not dystopian, guys!" part? (laughs) There is one thing; I read a lot of reviews by some very cool readers, some of which are along the lines of "Oh, human cloning is commonplace," "There are loads of clones," "Clones are a slave race," etc.
This really isn't true. I mean, sure, that's what GenTech's aiming for in the future, but at the time of Project Tau, there are only about 20-30 clones actually out there in society. The average person has never even seen a clone, although they know all about them, Tau is the first clone that's advanced enough to be able to speak, and we know from the first book that there were a lot of failures before they even came up with a stable clone they could work with. Most of the attempts fail; this is a seriously new science.
Also, legally they aren't slaves; they're livestock. Granted, that's even worse, but referring to a clone as a slave is like calling a horse or a pig a slave Again, this comes out far more clearly in Homecoming.
7. In this book, Tau and Kata spend quite a bit of time apart. How does this develop?
It was never going to be that way when I started out. The problem was that Tau's naivety and incessant questions worked in the first book, but I think it could get old very fast for a lot of readers. So, yeah, we get to see his reaction to certain things that he's seeing for the first time, like rain and plants, but he's past the point of always turning to Kata for explanations, not least because he's smart enough to watch and figure a lot of things out for himself.
The other problem is that, if you take away things like Kata's stories of the world outside the labs and his explaining various things to Tau, there isn't a great deal they can talk about. Tau has no memories outside of the labs, he doesn't know what foods he likes, what movies he likes, or anything, whereas Kata was a normal guy for the first eighteen years of his life, right up until GenTech locked him up.
Their relationship relies heavily on the other; Tau needs Kata to take the lead in everything, and Kata needs Tau to help him hold everything together. When things go wrong and the two of them are separated, Tau actually handles it much better. Kata, he's got this whole slew of baggage; you know, he was effectively abducted, locked up, and tortured with the aim of dehumanizing him completely, and even though he escaped, he has the deaths of literally hundreds of people on his conscience. That's going to leave a serious mark on him. I mean, there were hints of it in the first book, but in this one we get to see a far more human, vulnerable side of him; he's in a long, long way over his head this time, and he knows it. So he's struggling to come to terms with everything he's suffered, and pretty much failing, while Tau is breaking away from Kata's influence, and when they do meet again, they're on far more of an equal footing.
8. The last book was thought-provoking in that it made the reader think about the rights of clones. Does this second book include any more somewhat controversial or provocative topics?
The first draft did, right before I scrapped most of it and recycled the rest into what will be Book 4 This one, I'm not sure. If it does, then it's not intentional. The theme of clone rights is going to be a recurring one throughout the series though. In the previous book, it was all about how they're broken and domesticated for work, while in this one, we get to see how society as a whole views them.
I mean, given how rare clones are, it's really going to take a long time (in the world of the books) before clone rights are going to even be considered. Cloning will have to develop to the point where they're common as muck before someone is going to stop and say, "Hey, you know what? Maybe this isn't the right way."
One theme that does come up a lot here though is that of mental vs. physical trauma. A lot of the book focuses on Kata's attempts to try and come to terms with everything he's been through and had to do, just to get away.
9. What's your stance on cliffhangers? Do you like to have most of the story wrapped up or do you like to leave your audience stranded?
At the end of chapters, cliffhangers are great. At the end of books, they suck (laughs) I always feel cheated if a book cuts off abruptly in the middle of the story ("If you want to find out how the characters escape this peril, you'll have to buy the next book! You know, in about a year or so's time when the author's done writing it.") so I try to wrap up the main problems in each story. What I really want is for a new reader to be able to pick up any book in the series and enjoy it, without having to wonder too much about what happened before. This is why I'm always on the hunt for new beta readers; I want people who are completely new to the series reading the latest book, so I can answer any questions in the text.
What I always want is to leave the audience wanting to spend more time with the characters. If someone finishes reading the book and thinks, "You know what, I'd like to read more about these guys," then I've done my job right.
10. In Homecoming we find many who betray Tau and Kata, as they are on the run from GenTech. Are there any characters that Tau and Kata are able to get close to?
Tau, definitely not (laughs) Maybe in the future, but right now he's suffered far too much at the hands of other people, both from being tortured in GenTech and betrayed outside of it. As far as he's concerned, all humans except Kata are the enemy and not to be trusted.
Kata's a different story. You know, he's basically a kid – he turns twenty during this book – who's been through hell, he's mentally and emotionally exhausted and is desperately looking for someone to help shoulder the burden, or even take it from him completely. We get a lot more of his backstory in this one, including the rather strained relationship he had with his family. So yeah, he winds up in this Akkhenian field hospital on Atthiras, and he ends up eventually forming a strong bond with the guy in charge of the whole place.
11. Are there any other fun pieces of technology that are introduced in Homecoming?
Honestly, I try to keep the hi-tech stuff to a minimum, partly because writing hard science only appeals to a relatively small number of readers – who are all likely to know much more about the subject than I do! – but mostly because I think future technology is likely to just be a refinement of existing tech.
You know, I've gotten a few comments about why people in my books still use pen, paper and file cabinets instead of (presumably) a super-duper, futuristic, snazzy database. The answer is very simple: because pen and paper are the best tools for the job. Paper can't have a server error, or a power failure. It doesn't require charging. You don't have to log in and open up a new file in a new program, and then save that file; just pick up a pen and you're good to go. Above all, paper records are far more secure than electronic ones; anyone wanting to get their hands on confidential records is going to have to tackle it in the manner of a jewel heist and, unlike deleted files that can be brought back from the dead if you have a good enough technician, all you need to destroy paper-based evidence is a match.
All that said, there are a few things: we get to see just how cryostasis works for long-distance travel between planets, and there are some medical techniques such as a kind of carbon-dating for skin and scar tissue. The one that gets the most screen time is probably the hologrammatic technology, where you can make a room look like it's in a field, or the middle of a desert, or in the ocean, just by scrolling through different options. It's a bit like being in a VR simulation without the headset. Advanced modules include the furniture as well, so that your bed might look like a rock, or a cloud, or a tree.
12. Are you leaking any chapters to your online fans? Where can we get more information about your books?
I'm super-protective about leaking stuff, so there's nothing at the moment. However, I'm planning to set up a monthly newsletter where chapters and extra information about upcoming books and releases will be leaked. Hopefully, it'll launch in January, so anyone who's interested should either follow me on Twitter or check out my Facebook and/or official site. Or all three together. I'm not picky
13. Do you think you'll ever run out of ideas?
Heh. It's not looking likely. Right now, I have a YA sci-fi series on the burner that takes place in the same universe as Projects, but about 1000 years earlier, a comic fantasy series to get started on, a xenofiction series (think life through the eyes of dinosaurs, but with a twist) and a more serious fantasy series. All of these series have 3-4 books planned out, and that's before you count the next three books in the Projects series, plus the three spin-offs I want to write, plus a huge, epic fantasy that I want to try my hand at. So, as you can see, there's enough there to keep me busy for a very long time!