10-15-2014: MilSciFi.com interviews Raymund Eich, author of the military science fiction
novel, Take the Shilling.
MilSciFi: Welcome. Please tell us a little
something about your novel.
Eich: Take the Shilling is about a young man's coming of age
during wartime. Tomas Neumann enlists in the Confederated Worlds
Ground Force to escape his widowed mother's strict religious household.
Implanted skills ready him for combat against the Unity forces on New Liberty,
but leave him unprepared for scornful comrades, inept leaders, and interservice
rivalries. Guerrilla resistance sparks a spiral of atrocities, wounding him in
body and in spirit. To survive the war and pursue his destiny, Tomas must learn
the toughest lesson of all.
MilSciFi: Is this part of a large series or universe?
Eich: It's the first novel set in this universe. It won't be the
MilSciFi: What inspired you to write this story?
Eich: I've been a long-time reader of both sf and history,
especially military history, so the urge to write a military sf novel has been
with me for a long time.
Against that backdrop, the birth of my
son got me thinking deeply about the journey to manhood. To became a man, each
of us needs to learn from a mentor, preferably a father; needs to find a place
among our peers; and when the time comes, needs to lead. A healthy society
needs men who apply masculine energy toward both their own fulfillment and the
good of others, and contemporary American society does a poor job teaching boys
how to do that.
Those thoughts led me to a lot of
characters and situations in the book. Tomas, certainly, who starts as a
fatherless outsider on a planet not of his birth. Marchbanks, who mentors him.
His rivals in his hometown and in his armored grenadier unit. The women he
encounters, from his mother through the Daughters of Astarte and beyond.
Lastly, I placed those characters and
situations in a universe colored by some big ideas.
There are no intelligent aliens, because
both the likelihood of intelligence arising and the likelihood of intelligent
life building a high-tech civilization are very low. (If you like the Drake
Equation, fi and fc are both very close to zero).
Second, because space colonies will never
pay for themselves, the only motivation for space settlement is
religious. That doesn't mean space colonies will all have a religion found on
Earth today. It doesn't even mean space colonies will each have a core belief
in a highest power, a god or gods. An ethnicity, culture, or ideology would do.
It also doesn't mean the colonists will
remain as devout as their founding fathers.
Lastly, there's a Scott Adams quote that "holodeck will be
society's last invention." By the time of Take the Shilling, two human
worlds, Earth and Heinlein's World, an early colony, have already entered
"virtual fugue." That's all background, but its impact on interstellar society,
and Tomas' life, runs throughout the novel.
MilSciFi: Does science and technology play an
important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary
to the story telling and characterization?
Eich: I tend to agree with Gregory Benford's view, that soft sf is, like free
verse, playing tennis with the net down. I don't hold that view out of any
macho, "I can do math and think about complex subjects" posturing, but simply
because stories need constraints. If the character faces no limits, there is no
story, and what better set of limits than the laws of nature?
I don't read stories for explanations of
how fictional gadgets work, and I don't write any, either. The core of fiction,
even the hardest sf, is capable characters pursuing important goals. The
science and technology behind those characters, their goals, and their pursuits
has to matter, with enough details so the reader can figure out why it matters,
but beyond that, it belongs in the background.
The ultimate example of what I'm talking
about, keeping the net up but in the background, is the story of Robert Heinlein spending two days with a slide rule to
figure out the details of a space journey that took a sentence in the book he
MilSciFi: Do you have plans to expand upon, or
write other works based on this novel?
Eich: I do plan more works in this setting. A war between three
great powers can't end with everyone getting what they want. Once big conflicts
arise, it takes more than a few signatures on paper to resolve them. Plus,
there are more forces in this universe than just the Confederated Worlds, the
Unity, and the Progressive Republic.
MilSciFi: What advice would you give the aspiring
military science fiction writer?
Eich: Read a lot, especially nonfiction, about war and about
combat. If you just copy Starship Troopers, and Heinlein's treatment of Mobile Infantry as
essentially paratroopers, you can create an unbelievable world with massive
interstellar transports delivering foot soldiers to the battlefield.
(Seriously, if you can harness the vast energies required to get soldiers to
another star system before they die of old age, you'll have enough joules left
to ship tanks and AFVs with them, or nanotechnologically fab their fighting
vehicles at the destination).
Not only will reading about war and
combat prevent the blurry-photocopy effect, it will open the writer's mind to
nuances of human behavior in wartime that can make a story more real. Plus, you
might encounter some incidents you could readily adapt to your story.
Finally, search the internet for
"Murphy's Laws of Combat." There are several different lists floating around,
it doesn't matter which one you find. If you don't apply at least one item from
the list to each combat scene you write, you're writing it wrong.
MilSciFi: Who is your single-most influence in
science fiction and what impact have they had on our own work?
Eich: That's a heck of a question. Over the years, my favorite sf
writer has been Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, or Greg Bear.
As far as influences go, my writing style
is closest to Clarke or Niven's. I admire Bear's reach across
the various subgenres of sf. However, I've read so much sf, across so many
subgenres, that I have trouble pointing to any individual writer's particular
impact on my work.
MilSciFi: What is the one thing you find the most
difficult about writing military science fiction?
Eich: Hitting the sweet spot between being gritty enough and being
War isn't about men dying painlessly with
nice neat bullet holes, and the survivors thinking nothing of fighting,
killing, and watching comrades die. Real combat is more damaging, physically
and mentally, than Rambo war-porn depicts it.
On the other hand, no one wants to read a
story in which everyone suffers and dies without reason and purpose. Nevermind
how many times that's happened in real warfare! We read war stories to read
about how people face those dangers and become better (or worse) in the
MilSciFi: Is military science fiction the only
thing you write, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?
Eich: I have three other published novels, all now out in ebook
editions from CV-2 Books. The Blank Slate is a near-future thriller
about one man's struggle against a conspiracy to control the United States. The Sirens of Bangalore explores
the "holodeck as society's last invention" theme through the actions of an
American expat technology entrepreneur in India. New California features the
founding of a new, secular religion on a Chinese-dominated colony world settled
by wealthy American refugees. I also have ten short stories, ranging from hard
sf, to a 21st century folktale, to a WWII vampire story, available in ebook
MilSciFi: Do you have any other projects in the
Eich: I'm working on a swashbuckling fantasy novel right now.
Along the way, I'm jotting notes for a followup to Take the Shilling, to
take place immediately after the war, in the hot peace between the end of
hostilities and the signing of a peace treaty.
MilSciFi: Do you have a website?
Eich: My website is raymundeich.com. My publisher's website is
cv2books.com. You can also find me on Twitter (twitter.com/raymund_e) and
MilSciFi: Thank you, for your time.