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Author W. Michael Gear on his new epic off-world sci-fi novel, Outpost

Contributed by
Feb 20, 2018

Ready to launch into an exotic planetary adventure rife with ravenous camouflaged monsters, cultish death ships, and a ruthless corporate entity?

New York Times best-selling novelist W. Michael Gear has armed himself with an impressive resume of science fiction and historical sagas over the years. Gear has lured millions of readers into his detailed stories, captivating webs, and original concepts.

The Wyoming-based writer and scientist is best known for the Spider Trilogy and his award-winning First North Americans series centered around early Native American history and co-authored with his wife Kathleen O'Neal Gear.

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Taking a turn into Western-tinged science fiction, Gear's new novel, Outpost, will whisk you 30 light years from Earth to the outer-rim destination of Donovan. A perilous frontier planet, Donovan is a deteriorating mining community where laborers are preyed upon by marauding invisible monsters and carnivorous plants.

The novel's prose is as razor-sharp as Donovan's toothy beasts, its characters deftly defined. The enveloping narrative gallops along at a fierce pace and will make Outpost one of the must-read sci-fi releases of 2018 when it arrives on February 20 from DAW Books. It's Predator meets Avatar with a gritty touch of Deadwood tossed in to keep things interesting.

Here's the official synopsis:

On a lone planet full of bounty, resources and a habitable atmosphere, the wealth of planet Donovan comes at a price. Being thirty light years away — trekking to Donovan means a two-year journey that few survive. When Turalon arrives in orbit, Supervisor Kalico Aguila discovers a failing colony, its government overthrown, and the few colonists left now gone wild.

For Kalico, Donovan offers the chance of a lifetime: one desperate spin of the wheel that will leave her the most powerful woman in the solar system. Or dead. Planetside, Talina Perez is one the three rulers of the only town on Donovan. She’s the only law left, and now a Corporate ship has appeared in orbit and is demanding answers about done things she’s done in the name of survival.

Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship appears in orbit and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that forewarns any ship from making the return journey to Solar System. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. One whose secrets are hidden in Talia Perez’s very bloody game, one that will change everything, forever.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Gear from the author's bison ranch in Wyoming to get the lowdown on Outpost, the first in his bold new Donovan series. Gear discussed his inspirations for this far-out odyssey, how he created an entirely new alien ecosystem, and attempts to teach us exactly why Shrodinger's Cat is both dead and alive.

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Can you take us on a brisk tour of how this new sci-fi novel was born?

W. MICHAEL GEAR: Outpost had actually been sitting in a drawer for about two decades and my wife, Kathleen, said I really needed to take it out and dust it off. Periodically, you have a book you really want to write, that's an itch you're never allowed to scratch because you have different contracts for different things. And, of course, we're best known for the People series on North American archaeology. So I took it out and fundamentally it's a frontier novel based on the conundrum of what do you do if you're on a failing colony in a remarkably rich world, but the world itself is busy knocking people off one and two at a time with very heavy attrition rate. It turns out that by abandoning the colony you only have a one-in-five chance of making it back alive.

So what decision do you make? Do you stay, knowing that the chances are good you're going to be eaten? Or do you take the next ship back knowing you have an 80% chance of dying horribly somewhere lost in space, perhaps starving to death with no future whatsoever?

What sort of ecosystem are you working with on Donovan?

Donovan is fun! It has a breathable atmosphere, very much Earth-like. Advanced biology, complex creatures. And all of a sudden, humans are part of the food chain again. So survival boils down to what you can actually grow. You can't eat the local Donovan critters because they're just as busy trying to eat you. This is a circumstance that human beings have not been in for the past ten thousand years or so. It's really fun to go back and put people in a situation where they're no longer the dominant creature.

It sounds like there are some nasty predators prowling this remote colony planet. How did you come up with these monsters?

I had to build an entirely different biology. This is one of the great benefits of being a scientist all my life. How do you create a biology that makes sense to this planet? If you look at most terrestrial life, we all have bi-lateral symmetry — two arms and two legs. How do you build a biology that has tri-lateral symmetry and then adapt it to a terrestrial environment? What are the patterns, the selective pressures, what is adaptive and what is not? All these things went into building a biology for these things from the bottom up.

Can you tell us more about one of the main characters, Talina Perez?

Well, she comes from Mayan descent, she's Mexican, from Chiapas, and her mother was a Mayan archaeologist. She sees the world a little bit differently than you would through the usual western cultural framework.

What are some of the daily struggles Donovan's inhabitants face?

Port Authority, the only town left on the planet, is this interesting mix of 22nd- and 19th-Century technology where they have to make light bulbs. When they are constantly hunted by these large, extraordinarily active camouflaging predators, what happens when your ammunition begins to go bad? How do you cobble things together so that you can hang on? They've already had to take down the perimeter fences and fortify the actual town boundary itself by building an electrified, fifty-foot-high barrier. And when those resources run out, what do you do?

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How did Outpost differ from your well-known historical fiction or other sci-fi novels?

If you take my old science fiction like the Spider Series or Forbidden Borders, that was pretty much based on fixed, established popular science with faster-than-light drives. Multiverse physics have come a long way in the past 20 years. By changing our physics to a multiverse physics it gives you a different method of interstellar travel that's outside this universe based on probability mathematics.

If you take quantum mechanics and put it into a multiverse environment, then all of a sudden you can start solving a lot of the problems, especially with reconciling relativity with quantum mechanics. A lot of that uncertainty goes away. Schrodinger's Cat is both alive and dead. All of this is based on mathematical probability. We live in a wonderful time for physics.

 

What do you hope readers of Outpost get out of it?

In essence, it's putting all of my different professional careers together... the physics, the history, the anthropology — including living in a wilderness environment where you'd have lions that eat your dog in your front yard. It gives you a different perspective.

And all of that went into the Donovan series of books, and will continue to go into that. The anthropology of death cults, studies of frontiers, the study of collapsing civilizations, of human adaptation in dire circumstances, and the kind of choices that people make. A lot of people said that Outpost is like a cross between Avatar and Deadwood. How do people exist in a small isolated community with no law, how do they run their affairs? People come to Donovan for three reasons: to leave, to die, or to find themselves. And I think that's always the key to good fiction.

What's on your creative plate for 2018?

The next book in the Donovan series is Abandoned and it will be coming out in November of this year. The third book, Pariah, has just been delivered so we're waiting for editorial comments and revisions on that, but it's already on the publisher's desk.

So far the first reviews for Outpost are extraordinarily rewarding, especially if you've been in this business as long as I have. Doing the Outpost books has been fun, as opposed to my more research-intensive series. It's going back to one of my first loves. The marketplace took me away from science fiction for years and coming back to good hard sci-fi has been this absolute, incredible delight.

If you asked me who my favorite science fiction author was, I'd have to say myself! [Laughs] I'm writing the kind of challenging book I'd want to pick up for my own relaxation and fun.

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