Entertainment » Books

Adam Connell

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 11, 2004

Adam Connell is a new writer with all the gifts you look for in a rising star: imagination, passion, an eye and an ear for character and detail -- and it doesn't hurt that his book, -Counterfeit Kings-, delivers a compelling combination of hard science-fiction adventure, satirical political observation, and a healthy dose of sex 'n' violence.

While the story Connell has dreamed up about a spaceship engineer turned land baron and CEO of an energy mining operation located in orbit over Io, Jupiter's violently volcanically active moon, is a refreshingly new take, it's the book's characters that are its best feature. The hero is a man named Horrocks, who owns one of the Io mines but who has been drafted by the Jovian system's "Queen" -- the wife of the space-faring land baron who has fashioned himself as a "King" because he weilds such wealth and authority in the outer solar system -- to find her missing husband in the aftermath of an assassination attempt. Horrocks ios working on a deadline -- by law, if the King is not recovered within three weeks, his assets will go to whoever is quick, clever, and strong enough to seize and hold on to them. A small army of "Bastards" -- a band of the King's many illegitimate sons and daughters -- are one threat to the Queen, but they are hardly alone: Earth-based corporations would love the chance to acquire the secret technology that allows the King to harvest energy from Io's volcanic outbursts.

The Bastards have their own man on the job, a fellow named Guilfoyle who is given to bouts of rage and depression. Although Guilfopyle sees himself as a shunned and tormented man of exceptional qualities (hence the name he gives his ship, the -Honey Locust-), those with whom he does business see him in a less kindly light -- including his sister, with whom he quarrels daily. Theirs is such a tangled knot of co-dependency that Guilfoyle only barely keeps his incestuous impulses under control. (Horrocks is recognizable as the good guy in the piece chiefly because he's so much more generous and considerate toward his pregnant girlfriend, a tattooed young woman with a scarring past named Sari.)

The key to the story is a group of elite bodyguards employed by the King. Surgically altered to be his duplicates, any one of these Counterfeit Kings could act as a pretender to the throne and puppet for the victor in the coming power struggle -- or, just as easily, become a spoiler for a rival's designs on the King's energy facilities. Both Horrocks and Guilfoyle have a vested interest in rounding up as many Counterfeits as possible and using them to locate the missing King -- in order to save him (Horrocks' mission) or to take him out of the picture for good (Guilfoyle's assignment).

The resulting book is a high-speed chase through the empty outer reaches of civilization and the equally empty core of savage human ambition, as Horrocks and Guilfoyle seek to outmaneuver one another and settle a war between various power-hungry factions before it has a chance to get started.

Adam Connell recently chatted with EdgeBoston about the book and the equally startling story behind it: Connell got his big break as the indirect result of being laid off.

EdgeBoston: Adam, I notice that there are certain things about your book -Counterfeit Kings- that stand out from other sci-fi novels. For example, space ships in your vision of the future seem to be as mundane as RVs are to us today -- right down to the terminology of their parts: space ships in your book have cellars and dashboards, right along with cockpits and rocket flues.

Adam Connell: I think that as we move forward, as off-planet life is co-opted by civilians and business, space ships and colonies will be much more mundane than has previously been depicted in other works of SF. My descriptions of the ships were a deliberate tool to put a domestic spin on daily space life. After a certain point, I don?t think John Q would be using words like galley, deck, quarters, etc. These ships will be their homes. As such, it?s only natural that they would think in terms of bedrooms, kitchens, cellars.

EdgeBoston: I also notice that your characters are some pretty wild types: neurotic, pig-headed, and sometimes downright nasty in a way that the heroes, or even the villains, in other books usually aren't. They're like something off the Jerry Springer show. Is this part of your larger scheme of the future, which would seem to be kind of a grubby, rough place? Or do you have an especial interest in showing us characters who are kind of rotten (and, psychologically or emotionally, rotting) because, well, that sort of character is more interesting?

Adam Connell: Flawed characters aren?t necessarily part of how I see the future. Flawed characters are interesting in any time period. I?m not sure if you?d see Horrocks and Guilfoyle on the Jerry Springer show -- although I?d definitely tune in -- but my intention was to create dynamic, broken people that readers would feel compelled to follow around. While there is plenty of extrapolated science in the book, and a believable if fictional macrocosm for that science to exist and impact society, I tried to focus on the characters as much as the story would allow. To me, character is everything.

EdgeBoston: One of the central plot points in your novel is that there is a local ruler who is essentially a King who dominates commerce in the Jupiter system of moons, and who has a cadre of bodyguards who have been surgically altered to be nearly identical to himself. Did you get this idea from current events -- from, for example, Saddam Hussein's use of body doubles among his elite guards?

Adam Connell: Hussein?s body doubles are a more recent example, but the idea actually came from one of the Shakespeare courses I took in college. I?ve forgotten which play, maybe it was -Henry V-, but I remember reading a particularly vivid battle scene where one soldier says something like, ?I?ve killed the king six times already.?

The king had foot soldiers outfitted in his royal armor to confuse the enemy. I thought, Wow, what a wonderful ploy. The notion bounced around my head for ten years until I started writing -Counterfeit Kings-.

EdgeBoston: It's not uncommon in science fiction that a future society or an alien society (like in Star Wars, for example), democracy no longer exists and a King or Emperor -- or tyrant -- has complete power. In the case of your book, the "King" is only called by that title because he's like the land barons of the wild west -- he controls the crucial resources, the way the land barons used to, and hence he controls the fates of those who labor under him. How deliberate is the use of the "King" in your book as a reference to America's pioneer days, or to the sci-fi trope of the monarch in a time and place where democracy has been forgotten?

Adam Connell: You?re absolutely correct, the King?s power structure was modeled on the land barons of the wild west, and also on the feudal model of Medieval Europe.

In -Counterfeit Kings-, democracy hasn?t been entirely forgotten -- in the universe of the book, democracy most probably still exists on parts of Earth and perhaps out in The Deeps. But democracy has no place on the King?s mines. Yet people are free to leave the mines if they choose. The fact that so many have stayed with the King for so long implies a mutual benefit overriding any restrictions on personal freedom. I?ve always seen it as a technological dictatorship, not one of brute power. To me, that was an interesting concept worth exploring.

EdgeBoston: Your idea of mining energy from Jupiter's volcanically active moon, Io, is inspired. What took you in that direction as opposed to the more familiar scenario of mining for minerals in the asteroid belt?

Adam Connell: Since I knew there was going to be a quasi-king in the book, I thought it might be an intriguing parallel to set the book near Jupiter, the king of planets. I did some exhaustive research -- data from the Galileo mission was invaluable -- and Io kept tugging at my sleeve. I suppose I could easily have used an asteroid belt, or one of Jupiter?s more stable moons, but as you said, that scenario is so familiar and clich?d. For
that reason I probably would have lost interest twenty pages in, and the book never would have gotten finished. It just wouldn?t have been challenging enough. Besides, what?s cooler than a moon being wracked by hundreds of active volcanoes?

EdgeBoston: This is your first novel, and the story I've heard about it is that you submitted it for publication because of having been downsized from Corporate America.

Adam Connell: Close. I graduated from college an English Major and wound up working in finance. That?s a long story in itself, so I?ll skip that. In my department there was no work to take home, and I could write at night and on weekends. And if the office atmosphere was a little stifling, well, you?ve got to take the good with the bad.

Then the best and worst thing to ever happen to me came in one phone call. That?s right, I was laid off over the phone. While on vacation. On my sister?s birthday. I can tell you, her birthday dinner was no riot of joy. A couple years before that birthday my firm was taken over by a Wall Street behemoth. I was laid-off with about 200 people, nearly all my old co-workers.

I decided to get into publishing as an editorial assistant, something I should have done right out of school. I spent nine months pounding the pavement -- well, pounding the internet, the phone, my head against the desk. The publishing industry was hit by the recession pretty hard, too. I had no luck at all.

I sent out a lot of cold letters. Nothing doing. About nine months later I came across Phobos Books, came across one of their wonderful anthologies in the bookstore. I sent them a letter asking if the company had any openings, and to my amazement Sandra Schulberg, their president, called me a week later for a phone interview. ?We may have an opening,? she said. ?I see on the bottom of your resume? -- and I almost didn?t even put this in there -- ?it says you write novels.? I told her yes. She invited me to her office to discuss the job opening, and asked me to bring along my best manuscript. The job never opened, but Sandra loved -Counterfeit Kings-.

EdgeBoston: Was this serendipity at work? Are you happier as a writer now than you were in your former occupation?

Adam Connell: It?s a very unusual story, I know, believe me. It must be serendipity. If events didn?t play out precisely the way they did, we wouldn?t be having this interview!

I?ve told my story at a lot of conventions, and people are always amazed. I?m still amazed. But when telling the story, I stress the fact that I?ve been writing diligently for over fifteen years. Writing every day with the goal of being published. I caught a big break, but all the pieces were in place so I could capitalize on it. I worked hard to hone my skills, and when a project is done I make sure that the manuscript is formatted properly and professionally. That way when I sent it out or, as chance had it, someone asked to see it, I knew they wouldn?t dismiss me as a novice out of hand.

I?m so much happier now than when I was in finance. I don?t regret my time there, but I feel pretty strongly this is what I was meant to do. At the keyboard, it just feels right, it puts a smile on my face. I love writing.

EdgeBoston: Characters in -Counterfeit Kings- speak wistfully of a region of space where it's possible to make a fresh start and take advantage of new opportunities. But it's not clear where The Deeps might be -- is it another solar system? Is it the Oort Cloud?

Adam Connell: Most probably the Oort Cloud. I purposefully didn?t give The Deeps a concrete location. I don?t think it?s necessary for a writer to fill in every blank. I want readers to be active. When I?m reading something, I really hate it when every little detail is given out. I thought it would be fun, more involving for the reader, to let them draw
their own conclusions about certain things. Not about everything, but a few things. I wanted The Deeps to be kind of intangible, mythological. In my mind it?s probably located within the Oort cloud, but that doesn?t mean it?s the right answer.

EdgeBoston: It sounds like sort of a hard sci-fi version of Heaven. You can get there, and once you do it's supposed to be wonderful, but the getting there is the really hard part!

Adam Connell: Exactly. You mentioned the old west before, and I think that analogy works well here, too. Or the California Gold Rush. That?s how I picture the character of The Deeps. A place known to have opportunity, but unless you actually go there you have very little idea of what it?s actually like. Few people ever return from The Deeps, which adds to its mystery.

EdgeBoston: You stay away from any calendar dates in the book, which makes the setting a little bit of a fun puzzle to sort out. Human beings have been out in the solar system for a while, but not so long that they've colonized everywhere, and they don't seem to have gotten to other solar systems yet, or if they have, it's something new.

Adam Connell: In the book, we?ve tried to get out of the solar system, but it didn?t quite work out. Dates are another thing I like to leave up to the reader. Given the events in the book, our level or progress at that point, I?d say most likely it?s a hundred fifty years or so in the future. Again, there?s no wrong or right answer.

EdgeBoston: There's an amusing confluence of ancient traditions in the novel, when the hero arrives at a space-faring church and the priests try to tempt him with sacred prostitutes.

Adam Connell: Since one of the book?s undercurrents is duality, I thought it would be interesting to have a church that tempts people with sin to lure them into the flock. I?ve always been fascinated with Mary Magdalene?s story, and I thought, What if a church, a twisted kind of church, used prostitutes and drugs to win over converts? Once converted, the church could show the people they?d duped how sin is wrong, but? You can probably tell, I don?t have a lot of faith in religion.

EdgeBoston: I don't recall any details, but it seems I've heard about pre-Christian religions having something similar to your book's sacred pleasure women.

Adam Connell: It wouldn?t surprise me at all. I didn?t do too much research on religion, I just used what I already knew. This particular church is in the novel because it advances the plot, and it also gives those few chapters some interesting flavor.

EdgeBoston: Have you got any plans at this point for a sequel?

Adam Connell: No, I don?t. The book has a very definite end. I feel like it?s complete, that it doesn?t have to go any further. I will tell you that I know what happens to the surviving characters, and maybe there is a story to tell there but I don?t feel an urgent need to tell it.

EdgeBoston: What are you working on now?

Adam Connell: I?m in the process of polishing -Cold Tonnage-, an Arctic SF adventure. It?s about a convoy of icebreakers hacking their way up to the North Pole to bring back the bodies of a doomed scientific expedition. It has no relation to -Counterfeit Kings-. Actually, I wrote it just before -Counterfeit Kings-, so I?m just tightening a few screws, bringing it up to my current speed, so to speak.

EdgeBoston: What about your first idea, to become an editor? Are you going to move into that field as well, between writing novels? Or are you going to plunge right into a new novel once your next book is published?

Adam Connell: I?m still thinking of getting into publishing on the editorial side, but I haven?t committed to a hard-target job search yet. Fortunately I?m in a place where I can write for the next year or so and not have to worry, financially.

I?ve been doing some research for my next book. It?s burning to get onto the page. I can feel it coming to a boil, so I probably have no choice but to get it down soon! I do a lot of research to make my books as realistic as possible. I also work from a loose outline, which is almost finished for this next project. I need to know the major plot points before I start. If I don?t know where I?m going, then I won?t know how to get there.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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