interviews Michael Z. Williamson, author of the military science fiction novel
Contact With Chaos.
"Welcome. What was your inspiration for your story?"
Williamson: "I had the idea of what technologies could be developed without using any
metal. Ceramics are possible, as are selective breeding, chemistry, water
power, and actually quite a few others. Then of course, the question is
how would humans deal with such a culture? Most first contact stories are rather
monolithic--we meet them, we come to some kind of accord eventually.
However, there's no single human culture, and I wouldn't expect aliens to have
one, either. So there are multiple human and alien factions negotiating
and fighting for position. I wanted to see who'd win."
"Do you have any future plans for stories set in the same universe?"
Williamson: "I try to make all my stories stand alone, but most of them are set in the
"Freehold" universe, as is the one I'm working on now. I never liked
the idea that a reader had to start at some particular place or be lost, but I
also like having the continuity of a common universe."
"What would your ideal project be if you could plan your
Williamson: "Either one about how the Freehold universe developed, which I actually have in
mind for some point in the future, or else I'd throw out an idea and invite a
bunch of authors to do their take on it."
"What other upcoming works are on the horizon for you?"
Williamson: "I'm working on a sequel to my last book--"Better to Beg Forgiveness...",
which will have lots of explosions and carnage. It was a fun book to
write, I'm enjoying working on the new one, and the readers really got a kick
out of it."
"How would you describe your experience working on the
Williamson: "Contact with Chaos might have been my toughest project. I was actually
deployed to the Middle East while writing, and my time was obviously very
limited both during buildup and deployment. Then, I was sick after I
returned, and had some other issues. It's also a much more political book
than my previous stuff--the main character is a diplomat. In the past
I've always used warriors."
"What was your favorite part, the concept that just really
gets you going?"
Williamson: "Stone age aliens with buzz bombs, rocket artillery and poison gas. No one
saw that coming."
"Is this book a part of a series? Tell us a bit about it."
Williamson: "Not a series, but the Freehold universe gives me a common baseline for everything.
It also has some rather strict rules. I've limited myself to potentially
inhabitable systems within a few light years (no more than about 50 ly, at
present), and I have set a technology bar that's based on political and economic
needs but likely to shift in the "future," as well as the political
rules of the existing systems. The Freehold is a very laissez faire society,
with a very limited government. A lot of people think that would allow a
great many things to happen unrestricted, but in fact, a lot of societal
concerns we take for granted do require government support, so it's got its own
limits and boundaries."
"If you had a chance to write one story/novel just because
you wanted to, and didn't have to worry about if it would sell or not, what would
it be about?"
Williamson: "Heck, most of my stuff is written under those conditions. If I don't want
to write it, I don't pitch the idea."
"What is your favorite story/novel you have ever written and
Williamson: "It's hard to say. "Freehold" was my first, so it's not my best,
but it's very popular and seems to appeal to a lot of people. I'm fond of
it. "The Weapon" was grim and generates a lot of hate mail in addition
to fan mail. That means I made people think. I think "Contact
with Chaos" has gone in a direction that hasn't been done often--apparently
L. Sprague deCamp used a similar concept, but I haven't read that
sequence. "Better to Beg Forgiveness..." was definitely the
most fun to write. No rules, and I got to blow up everything that got in
the way. I also did enjoy my collaboration with John Ringo, "The
Hero." I got to write a genuinely evil bad guy, and I liked it."
"What are you working on next?"
Williamson: "It does not have a title yet, but it's the sequel to "Better to Beg Forgiveness..."
"Do you have a lead on your next storyline? Care to share a
Williamson: "The bodyguard team from "Better to Beg Forgiveness..." is contracted to
guard the daughter of an incredibly rich industrialist. He effectively
owns an entire system that's uninhabitable but loaded with resources.
Clearly, a lot of people would like to get their hands on it, and she's an
obvious lever. For the first part of the story, on Earth, they're very
much limited in the weapons they can use. There are different rules in
the domed complexes and habitats of the mining colonies, and at some point I'll
let them go all out and destroy stuff, of course."
"What advice would you give the aspiring military science
Williamson: "Study the military--how and why things are done, how and why they go wrong, and
keep the characters unique and interesting. There are few cardboard
"Who is your single-most influence in science fiction and
what impact have they had on our own work?"
Williamson: "Heinlein, definitely. It was the Heinlein Juveniles that got me reading
"What is the one thing you find the most difficult about
writing military science fiction?"
Williamson: "A military operates within a framework of law, regulations, infrastructure,
budget, technology and political control. A realistic story has to do
likewise, while keeping plot, character and conflict, and being interesting."
"Do you have any awards you would like to tell us about?"
Williamson: "I was nominated for both the Compton Crook Award and the Prometheus Award with
"Freehold." I was a finalist but other stories beat mine out.
It's amusing because the word was out that Brad Linaweaver and I were both
nominees for the Prometheus, and that he was annoyed. We both met at
LosCon, shook hands, and he expressed that the new Spider Robinson/RAH pastiche
was likely to win. I expressed that it probably would not. And then
F. Paul Wilson beat us both with "Sims."
"Is military science fiction the only thing you write, or is
there something else out there we should be looking for?"
Williamson: "I've written some fantasy shorts for the "Valdemar" anthologies, I do
commentary and satire online and occasionally for magazines. I've written
a contemporary military fiction trilogy that readers really should check
out--"The Scope of Justice," "Targets of Opportunity" and "Confirmed
Kill." I do product reviews of weapons, outdoor gear and other
equipment, a lot of which I've managed to test in the field."
"Do you find it difficult finding a home for your military
science fiction work? What challenges do you face?"
Williamson: "Baen publishes a lot of it, and probably the majority of my readers are
veterans. The readership for mil SF isn't huge, but is dedicated. A lot
of publishers aren't minded to bother with it, and I think part of that is also
background based--most publishers/editors aren't veterans, whereas Jim Baen
was. It's hard to find other publishers for the genre, but there are a
few good books out there from others."
"Do you write under any other names?"
Williamson: "Nothing I would confess to at this point."
"Give us some details on your upcoming author appearances."
Williamson: "I believe I'm going to be at Penguicon, Marcon, InConJunction, possibly
DragonCon, Windycon and LosCon this year. I'm also at those most years,
so anyone reading this in an archive can check out their lists to see if I'm on
"Thank you for your time."