Your story, “Nomad,” first appeared in my anthology Armored, which just came out from Baen. What was the genesis of the story?
I wanted to write an intimate sort of story because that would contrast with the idea of future armor and its possible use, which is usually in war. But I didn’t want to write about battle armor in a war context, so I thought about how else these pieces of technology might be used. I was watching the TV show Sons of Anarchy and a documentary on the Hell’s Angels, and realized that the relationship between a man and his motorcycle is kind of mythic, and it would be interesting and fun for me to explore that kind of context with future armor, except from the armor’s point-of-view. I was reading True Grit at the time, as well, and that just confirmed for me that I wanted this story entrenched in the armor’s voice. What if the motorcycle could talk and think for itself? So then my armor was born.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
The most challenging part was finding Mad’s voice. The whole story would hinge on how effective that was, and how it conveyed itself, its thoughts, and its world. Since Mad is sentient, I wanted it to have a personality, but for it to be specific and somehow alluding to its own development. Once I hit on that, the rest of the story flowed pretty easily. I was conscious of it being a short story, so I couldn’t go into novel-depth about the world—details had to be alluded to, when Mad’s world itself is quite expansive and there’s a lot of history.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
Mad makes a decision to strike out on its own after something tragic happens. It questions its existence and role in the world and how others perceive its existence. I think those are pretty universal issues that are at the same time personal. Those kinds of questions are at the foundation of self-awareness.
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
I wanted Mad’s world to make internal sense, so I did do some research on motorcycle gangs, but it was admittedly pretty light. I wanted this world to be its own world, and not directly or wholly taken from a modern context. I also did some reading on biotechnology, and I’ve always been interested in future wars and the technology that might be used, so I’d run across articles here and there through the years about future armor and what that might entail. So I slipped some details in there. But I’m not a hard science fiction writer and Mad wasn’t going to navel gaze about its own construction—that wasn’t what the story was about. So I didn’t go into heavy detail about exactly how the armor’s constructed or exactly how it looks down to the minutiae. Instead I treated Mad’s “body” and makeup as I would any human character. It described things in the way people would describe each other’s eye or hair color or clothing. But it didn’t go into all of the internal workings of the organs, etc.
What is the appeal of power armor/mecha? Why do so many writers—or you yourself—write about it? Why do you think readers/viewers/gamers love it so much?
I think it’s just damn cool to look at. It’s raw power built to smash and blow things up. There’s an aesthetic appeal, too, and a lot of variation on how that can come about—either more brute, more graceful, or more robotic in appearance. The idea that you can add extensions to your own body, in a way, and become an arsenal is probably attractive to people on all sorts of levels. There’s that idea of indestructability.
What are some of your favorite examples of power armor/mecha (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?
I grew up on Robotech/Macross, so there’s a fondness for that and all the Japanese mecha, like in Gundam. I enjoy playing Halo (though I don’t play very often) and really dig Master Chief’s look. Radical Comics’ Shrapnel series uses battle armor and it’s beautifully rendered. Cinematically, I’m most looking forward to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim kaiju vs. mecha film. I’m going to be the first in line to see what a visionary like del Toro will do with the idea of big robot armor, and I have a strong feeling I won’t be disappointed.
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