James S.A. Corey is the pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who make their debut in the Galaxy Far, Far, Away with the Han Solo-centric novel Honor Among Thieves. I caught up with the two authors recently, and found out what influences and ideas went into creating their fast-paced, edge-of-your seat thriller. The interview appears below.
Both of you have had great success with The Expanse trilogy, but this is your first time in the Star Wars universe. What was your previous exposure to Star Wars and, more specifically, the novels of the Expanded Universe? Was the transition into another universe, especially one with so many works and references, challenging?
We've both been Star Wars fans since we were in grade school. I mean, who wasn't? As far as approaching the project specifically as a reading experience, Daniel probably still has his copy of Splinter of the Mind's Eye – which isn't even Expanded Universe -- back in his shelves somewhere. People forget that Star Wars was creating books about these characters and their adventures about a minute after the final credits rolled in '77.
The relationship of this particular novel to the whole of the Expanded Universe was always interesting. We had the resource of the Lucasfilm folks who could help us match the overall continuity, but we really wanted this to be a kind of entry-level novel. The kind of thing that could act as a sort of introduction to folks who'd seen the movies but not much else. We wanted it to be the expanded universe book that could introduce the expanded universe.
We’ve seen Han front and center in a couple of works from the early Rebellion-era, both before (A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy) and after (Timothy Zahn’s recent Scoundrels) the events in A New Hope. Were either of you familiar with the backstory and characterization of Solo expounded on by other writers? Was it important for you to try to preserve elements of the Han established by other works, or to “go with your gut,” so to speak, based off of the Han from the films?
The first priority was to keep Han recognizably the guy you saw walking down the aisle at the end of New Hope and fixing his ship at the beginning of Empire. Crispin and Zahn are great, and we really hope that folks who like this one seek out those books, but we didn't want to refer to any of it directly so much as keep close to the films.
I loved the pace of the novel and especially the dialogue, which I really thought was smart and in many cases, funny. At the same time, there are some weighty themes like the nature of freedom, the responsibility that comes with power, and the worth of friendship. Is it important for you to balance those dynamics in a work like this, and specifically, in a character like Han?
Well, you sure can't have Han without it being funny and smart. The magic of Han Solo in the movies – and especially New Hope – is that he's always wrong. If he says it's safe, it's not. If he says it's going to work, it isn't. Every plan he makes fails. But his improvisations always work.
For the deeper part – the question of whether being a criminal and being a rebel are the same thing, the danger of perfectly enforceable law – that stuff just comes in for free. When you start looking at a story like this, what the writer believes seeps in. It can't help it.
I can’t have been the only reader who was flashing back to some Indiana Jones scenes as the final chapters unfolded in the K’kybak temple. Was that intentional of just coincidence?
Actually, in the part of this where we were outlining the story, there was a version where we wanted to write about Han following the rumor of an Imperial droid designer who might be open to going rogue, only when Han got there, it was the droids themselves who were rebelling and harnessing an ancient weapon that would kill all organic life in the galaxy. Then we could have Han Solo retiring replicants in an ancient temple. Turned out that was a little twee, but some artifacts of it survived.
I have to ask. Whose idea was Hunter Maas, and how did you decide on his physical and social, uh, eccentricities?
Hunter Maas is actually lifted indirectly from a character called Pinto Vortando who was a character in Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. That was a show our mutual friend and current genre fiction demigod George RR Martin watched growing up, and pretty much every science fiction role playing game we've played in with him since then, he's managed to get his version of Pinto Vortando in there somehow. So Hunter Maas is our interpretation or George's interpretation of Ted Hecht's character in an SF serial form the 1950s.
Which elements of the post-A New Hope/pre-Empire Strikes Back time period did you want to capture in the novel? Was it constricting working in such a tightly packed time frame?
We wanted to write about the Han Solo who is still more than half a mercenary, who isn't sure why he's hanging around with these rebels except maybe there's this princess he sort of likes. There's a transition that happens with Han during the original trilogy that's fascinating to watch. By the Return of the Jedi he's a rebel general leading an attack on an Imperial military installation. How does he go from the “me first, I better get paid” Solo of the first movie to the guy who's leading soldiers? The time frame may be narrow, but the character arcs inside of it are rich.
A special thanks to both Abraham and Franck for stopping by to talk Star Wars literature. Be sure to check out Honor Among Thieves (on sale now) and then stop by TheForce.Net very soon to read Adam Throne's and my review of the book!