Official Interview: Jude Austin

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Official Interview: Jude Austin

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Today's Chat with Sarah features Jude Austin, author of the Projects series, which includes Project Tau and Homecoming.

To view the official review for Project Tau, click here.

To view the official review for Homecoming, click here.

To view Jude Austin's Amazon page, click here.

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1. First, how is the third book in the Projects series, Nowhere to Hide, coming along?

It's about 97% done! I can be exact like that, because I run a Writing Progress corner in my official author newsletter. It's crept up from around 30% when I first started the newsletter to almost done.

I don't have a firm publication date in mind, though. I'd like it to be around April/May, making it two years after Homecoming was released, but don't hold me to that. There's still the cover to be designed, and the final edits to be made. As soon as it's finished, I'm planning to submit it for an official OBC review!

2. Let's discuss some of the characters in your Projects series. I've read a few reviews that discuss Samara, the Trandellian security chief. Some say that she's the only female character in the books with any dimension. In fact, there were very few female characters at all in the first book, Project Tau. How would you answer that?

Wow, really? (laughs) I'm glad people like her, but out of all the female characters in Project Tau, I'm a little surprised people pick Samara, considering she does nothing except issue Renfield with a visa. Although there are no female MCs in Project Tau, there are four female characters in a cast of ten, one of whom – Amy Saunders – has enough book time to be classed as a supporting character.

Honestly, I never set out to write a male-focused novel. That's not how I roll; I've written books and short stories whose characters are mostly female. Although there are fewer women than men in Project Tau and no female MCs, I tried to balance it out by putting them in positions of high status or importance, particularly in the case of Dr. Lin and Amy Saunders.

So we have Lisa, Kata's roommate who's attending SACAS on an academic scholarship; Dr. Lin, a pioneer in stem cell research and one of the leading scientific minds of her generation; Amy Saunders, the female James Bond of the future and the only person to successfully outwit Dennison himself (barring Kata) and Samara...who is one of the chiefs of security and just happens to be the person whom Renfield gets sent to see. If he'd arrived at a different shuttle port, he'd have seen a different chief of security. Samara gives him what he needs to go talk to Kata's family, but that's where her role ends.

I think that there are some people who believe that if a female character isn't tough and gun-toting, she can't be classed as "developed." I remember in the earliest drafts of Project Tau, I got some derisive comments from reviewers because I mentioned Dr. Lin was attractive. Does that mean that intelligent women have to be ugly? Or that beautiful women are dumb? I never did understand why so many people hated the idea of a female scientist/researcher who was good-looking and brilliant – she's not in the book enough to qualify as a Mary-Sue – but it was getting so bad that in the end, I just took out that part of her description entirely and cut down her role by around 20%.

Other reviewers complained about Amy, because she wore a skirt and high heels and was "just a secretary." Apparently, they missed the part about her being a secret agent (which is spelled out very clearly for the reader; it's not one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it sentences) and expected a professional PA to wear jeans and combat boots as opposed to more businesslike attire. There's no law against a badass spy wearing a skirt; I've always held that clothing is a personal choice rather than a statement on a person's capabilities ;) And like I said, Amy's the only person in the entire book who manages to outmaneuver Dennison and shake him to the point of losing control.

Then, in Homecoming, we have Nicole Bridges, who's second-in-command of a military hospital and an accomplished surgeon with extra knowledge in law, Adrianne Demont, who – along with her counterparts – rules Kata's homeworld of Trandellia, plus the Nexus (judge) of Conclave and two of the legal advisors are all female, as is the head of the physio department, Jana Shaw. Barring the Nexus, all three of these women make a return in Nowhere to Hide.

3. In a previous interview, you mentioned a few new characters in Nowhere to Hide from Jessica Cane to Nicole Bridges to Agnetha Nyberg. Do you think these will help balance the female presence as far as your readers are concerned?

I've no idea (laughs) As I said, Homecoming has a pretty decent male-to-female ratio, with the likes of Adrianne and Nicole Bridges (both of whom return in Nowhere to Hide). There are other female characters in Nowhere to Hide too, some good and some bad, such as Selenda, Ashton and Una. I can't give away any more characters without spoilers, but there are plenty more to meet. The Projects universe is getting much bigger!

Honestly, I don't introduce characters with the idea of filling some invisible gender quota. I've never once sat down and thought, "Welp, better bring in a female now!" Anyone who sees a political or gender-related agenda in my work is reading way too much into it (laughs)

Why is Kata male? Because he has a Y-chromosome. Why is Nyberg female? Because she has two X-chromosomes. There really is no more reason to it than that; men and women are 100% equal in the Projects universe, with sexism a distant relic of humanity's past. On Trandellia, they're even seen as higher; vasarin (planetary rulers) are almost always female, and a male vasari is seen as something pretty odd. My answer to previous critique partners who wanted to know where the women were was always along the lines of, "Well, they're a bit busy commanding military troops, ruling planets and being ambassadors right now."

I do get to flesh out Bridges's character from Homecoming, though, which I'm looking forward to. That said, I prefer writing Nyberg, as she's far more of an action heroine than Bridges. There probably isn't an easy way to describe Jessica Cane (nope, still can't separate those names in my mind) except "quintessential gamer girl." She's a bit of a maverick, which makes her fun to write. I'm not sure if she'll make a reappearance in future books. That's very much up to her. As authors go, I'm at the mercy of my characters.

4. We touched on Kurai very briefly in another interview. Why is he one of your favorite characters?

Oh, man, I wish I could tell you! I really, really wish I could, but answering this question would involve major spoilers for Nowhere to Hide, so I'll have to pass on this one for the time being.

5. I know we've discussed Tau a lot, but I do have just one question. Why do you think he's so popular among readers?

I wish I knew! I remember on the Book of the Month forum here on OBC that someone ran a "Who is your favorite character?" poll, and Tau got more votes than everyone else combined. Maybe it's because he's so childlike and innocent in some ways? His innocence leads him to do some pretty dark things, though, particularly in Projects Book 4. (For the apprehensive among you, I hereby break my no-spoiler rule enough to say that none of these dark things are remotely sexual in nature. Tau's always been morally ambiguous, but he's never going to become a villain).

One thing that fascinates me is how many people mistake Tau for nice. I read in a couple of OBC reviews that he's quiet and polite, and reviewers seem to think that equates to being nice and gentle and a sweet, super-good person. It doesn't. It really, really doesn't. Heck, Hannibal Lecter's quiet and polite. Kata's motivated by altruism – everything he does in Homecoming and most of Project Tau is for Tau's benefit, and later Alan's – but Tau's motivations are usually far more selfish.

For example, in Homecoming, Tau doesn't hesitate to taunt and try and starve someone into doing what he wants, even outright stating that, "I'm starting to see why Dennison liked doing this to me and Kata; it's kind of fun!" He doesn't think twice before replacing Kata with Kurai and is baffled at the idea that his actions could be perceived as wrong or hurtful by Kata. Their final parting in the penultimate chapter shows this: while Kata's trying to find the right words to tell Tau he won't be coming with him and is worried about how Tau's going to take it, Tau's reaction is basically, "Meh, whatever. I got what I want, and that won't change whether you come with me or not."

The hardest part to all this is that although Tau's selfish, it's the selfishness of a little kid. He's only 2-3 years old, after all. He's still learning how to interact with people properly. Whether he'll learn in time to completely salvage his and Kata's friendship is another question, of course. (That's for Projects Book 4 to answer!)

6. Let's move in to the setting of the books. How detailed do you make the cultures, places, and peoples when you're writing your novel?

Extremely detailed! I have in-depth maps of three planets – Trandellia, Akkhen and Atthiras – that were released with my newsletter, and there's so much in the way of culture and backstory and places I have on each of the planets that have yet to make it into the novels. I wanted to explore some of the cave cities on Trandellia in Nowhere to Hide, but it would have slowed the pace too much and made no real sense from a story point of view, so that's something that will come into play in future books. I also have alphabets for both Trandellia and Akkhen. The Trandellian alphabet was released in the latest edition of my author newsletter, Stuff! and the Akkhenian will follow.

I'm playing with a site called World Anvil at the moment, building a comprehensive entry on Akkhen (Trandellia will follow later) and including a lot of things that you won't find in any of the books. I'll post a link on my official website and in my newsletter when it's done.

A lot of names and concepts are recycled from other works I did. The concept of Atthiras is much older than Project Tau, for example, and Kata and Tau originally made their debut in an abandoned novel about Atthiras. They were bit characters before I figured out they needed a book of their own. I might go back to Atthiras to write about the Trandellian Challenge that takes place, but that would be quite hard. My style of writing relies quite heavily on dialogue, and Challengers are completely isolated. Nowhere to Hide introduces large birds native to Akkhen called strirl (plural strirla) which were originally a throwaway sketch I remember doing when I was about fourteen.

I have two more books planned after Nowhere to Hide (Projects 4: The Worlds We Knew and Projects 5: Zero Hour) In my mind, I see two arcs: one is the GenTech arc, beginning in Project Tau and ending with Nowhere to Hide, and the other is the Nemesis arc (Worlds We Knew and Zero Hour). After that, there are a lot of spinoffs I want to do, and I want to introduce some brand-new unrelated characters in their own stories with no connection to Kata, kind of like how Terry Pratchett had different characters in the Discworld series. I want to tell the story of the Akkhenian Insurrection as well as the Trandellian Conflict, and the Purge...there's a lot I want to do to bring out the different worlds and cultures, but a lot of it will have to wait until after Zero Hour's released, and I'm not sure when that will be.

I don't know how the characters are going to be distributed, except to say that The Worlds We Knew will mark Tau's final appearance in the series. (I'm really sorry, Tau fans, but as Buffy the Vampire Slayer once so aptly put it, "when you've bowed, you leave the crowd," and Tau's story arc pretty much ended when Homecoming did.) That said, I do plan to write a definitive ending to his story instead of just leaving him to waft vaguely around from plot to plot. If it's any consolation, Worlds features him pretty heavily compared to Nowhere to Hide, where he plays a much more minor role.

7. Curious minds want to know. Why isn't there any artificial intelligence or ultra advanced technology in the Project Universe?

There's ultra advanced technology, if by that you mean things like medicine and cryostasis. As for the reason behind no AI, the meta reason is that even though I'm a sci-fi realism author, I abhor AI in the real world, and there's no way I'm going to include it in mine.

I just did a Google search and $50bn was put into AI research. For what? More to the point, how do we justify plugging that kind of money into developing talking machines instead of, say, developing a cure or vaccination for something like Alzheimer's? Speaking personally, I don't care if I'll be able to have a conversation with my microwave oven in the future. I don't care if Alexa can give me the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. I do, however, care very much if I'll be able to remember my husband and the good times we had together when I get old. I've seen what Alzheimer's can do to people. It ain't pretty.

The reason behind any lack of terraforming is simple: the in-universe Purge saw the near-extinction of the human race and kicked off the emergency evacuation to Akkhen. Because of that, humanity won't settle on any planet that requires artificial life support such as temperature/atmosphere control. Space stations are a little different in that they orbit inhabitable worlds (with one notable exception) and so people can be evacuated easily in an emergency.

The one exception is parking asteroids. It's established in the Projects universe that it takes literally days to travel between planets. Cryostasis does exist, but only on commercial shuttles (think of a restroom; you'd find it on a plane or ferry, but not in a person's car). Private shuttles are the same size/shape as cars, and nobody wants to sit for days on end in their car with no bathroom breaks and no chance to shower. Space stations are super-expensive to build, but asteroids are pretty common, so it makes perfect sense that people would make use of them. Fix some thrusters to keep it still, add a big dome and artificial atmosphere and there you go!

In other words, people in the Projects Universe have their priorities straight. Technological development is restricted to entertainment and medicine, with a sideline in day-to-day things like shuttles and better cryostasis, but the idea of firing a perfectly capable person and replacing them with a mindless machine that has no judgment, no compassion and is only loyal to the people it's programmed to be loyal to is seen as crazy and abhorrent. Machines are sometimes used in dangerous situations such as mining, but they're remote-controlled by a human.

The thing that I think some readers miss or forget is that the people in the Projects universe started with nothing. Literally, nothing. They were effectively marooned on Akkhen, which obviously had no buildings, no settlements, and left to rebuild their entire civilization from scratch. So instead of technology being, "Okay, we've progressed this far, so what's the next step?" it's "Uh...does anyone know how to harness electricity?" They would have brought personal belongings with them, and there would have been devices like computers, but with no power supply, they were only useful from a reverse-engineering point of view. They couldn't contact Terra for help, and the colony ship disappeared so they couldn't go back.

So basically, they had no pre-existing tech to build on. They had to reinvent everything, redevelop everything, and I think they sat down and said, "Okay, you know what? If we're building civilization from the ground up, what were the mistakes we made on Terra and the other worlds, and how can we avoid them?" It's not a case of trying AI and deciding, "Well, that didn't work," but deciding, "Why try to develop a machine to act like a human when there are actual, live humans around who can do a much better job?"

For comparison, imagine you're stranded on a desert island and you know you'll never find your way off. You have to find a power supply, you'll have to produce items – and it's handmade, since you have no factories, meaning the quality's not going to be as precise – and all you have to go on is the fact that you know something is possible; you just don't know how. Most people know it's possible to build a car, because they own one, but they wouldn't be able to build one from scratch. So right from the start, the settlers would have had the mentality of survival, which is why medicine is so important, and they'd see AI as a complete waste of resources and something that would be detrimental to the human race rather than beneficial, thus defeating the whole point of fleeing Terra in the first place.

8. In Homecoming, you have what you call pleasure worlds, like Atthiras. They sound fun, but are they as fun as they sound? Is it all hedonistic enjoyment or is there a darker side?

Atthiras is the only pleasure world in the series. I toyed with adding more, but habitable worlds are rarities, and I want to keep them that way.

A pleasure world is one that has no governing body and is uninhabited. There's no infrastructure, no shops, no buildings, nothing. If you want to build a house there, you can do what you like and no one has the right to interfere with you. Or, you know, you can wait for someone to build a house you like, then just kill him and move in with no fear of the consequences. No laws means no laws.

9. How about the military planet Akkhen. Citizens are obligated to serve for 10 years? Doesn't this create a problem? Deserters? Rebellion? Or is everyone okay with this?

There are grumblers, but High Command frowns heavily on deserters. Those who are caught (and they are caught) serve the full ten years, plus half the time they deserted, plus half the time in military prison. In other words, someone who managed to avoid their service for ten years would serve the obligatory ten years, plus five extra years and five more in jail. Military service is seen by most Akkhenians in the same light as taxes: the government doesn't care if you grumble about having to pay them, just so long as you do pay. Nowhere to Hide explores this in a little more detail.

The ten years comes from the Insurrection; it took ten years for the resistance to overthrow the former High Command. Contrary to what a lot of movies would have you believe, building rebel forces and overthrowing The Evil Ruler isn't something you can do in a few hours. The thinking of the current High Command is that, "Your ancestors gave ten years of their lives to win your freedom for you, so now you can give ten years of your life." Since the Insurrection was quite a few centuries ago, younger people are starting to question whether or not it should still apply to them. Others are fine with the idea of honoring the sacrifices made by their ancestors, but feel that ten years is too long and it should be something like two.

It's also so much the norm on Akkhen – it's been in practice for about 3-400 years – that most people just roll with it. They learn about it in class, parents tell them what to expect and if one of those parents is a drill sergeant, then they make sure to give their kids a head start on training.

There are exceptions – a person can be excused on medical or compassionate grounds – and those who are extremely skilled in the arts, such as movie and TV actors, can also receive special exemptions (although they are expected to at least complete Basic). Those who get gold-tagged – the highest military honor available – are also immediately released from the remainder of their service if they want to be.

It's helped by the fact that there hasn't been a war since the Trandellian Conflict, which took place after the Insurrection and lasted several decades. And as Alan points out to Kata, there are plenty of military jobs that don't involve crawling on your belly through mud and blowing things up.

10. Which world that you've created would you most want to visit and why?

Definitely Akkhen! Trandellia is bright, vibrant and chaotic – so are some parts of Akkhen, now that I think about it – but Akkhen was designed to look amazing. There are basically two rules when founding a new city or settlement: 1) it must be unique; 2) it must look amazing. This has led to spiral cities like Abenir, coastal bubble towns like Eskha and river settlements like Marthon. Plus, you know, Akkhen has the ring system. I think it would be pretty neat to visit a planet with rings.

I also want to try some Akkhenian food. A huge part of Akkhenian culture is built around their love of good cooking, as well as their love of various sauces. I'm a bit of a foodie – I used to write restaurant articles and food campaigns for a bilingual travel magazine in Tokyo – so I would love to sample some of the best cooking the human race has to offer. I think I'd go to north Akkhen, though – Khunat, Navakh, someplace like that – as the food in the southern regions would probably be too spicy for me!

If anyone has any further questions, please ask!
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Ayomikun Babalola
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Post by Ayomikun Babalola »

I really wish you could tell us why Kurai is one of your favourite characters, but I absolutely understand the need to not drop spoilers for your own book.
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Post by Jude Austin »

Ayomikun Babalola wrote: 10 Mar 2022, 10:16 I really wish you could tell us why Kurai is one of your favourite characters, but I absolutely understand the need to not drop spoilers for your own book.
Honestly, I wish I could too, but no matter how hard I thought about it or twisted it around, I couldn't find a way to answer without giving away some pretty major spoilers. And I hate spoilers. If people know every twist and development that's coming before they read the book, there's no reason for them to read it at all ;)

The good news is that Book 3 is 99% done (as according to my official newsletter!) so there isn't much longer to wait!
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Post by Ramon Scott »

This interview was really cool. This author is very unique. Good luck on your next book
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Post by Ammarah Azhar 1 »

The author has a very distinct point of view on sexism. This interview is very informative and helpful for readers and writers alike.
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Post by Jude Austin »

Ramon Scott wrote: 01 Jul 2022, 09:17 This interview was really cool. This author is very unique. Good luck on your next book
Thank you :D You'll hear about my next book on OBC first ;)
Ammarah Azhar 1 wrote: 07 Jul 2022, 17:44 The author has a very distinct point of view on sexism. This interview is very informative and helpful for readers and writers alike.
I do. I also have an optimistic view of the distant future. It helps that in the Projects series, humanity basically had to start over from scratch in the future rather than just building on what went before, so a lot of old-fashioned prejudices that still remained were firmly stamped out ;) It was essentially, "Okay, we have a chance to rebuild the kind of society we want right from the beginning. What mistakes did our Terran forefathers make, and how can we avoid them?" (Not saying they didn't make plenty of their own mistakes, but their intentions were good ;) )
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